Erdogan’s language is reminiscent of that used by Iranian officials to denigrate the Green Movement back in 2009. Determined to prevent the protests that four years ago filled Tehran’s iconic Azadi Square with millions of people chanting “Where is my vote?” the Iranian government took a number of steps this year to preempt mass public expressions of political sentiment. First, the Guardian Council, the body that vets all candidates for elected office, weeded out more than 600 candidates for office -- including the most prominent representatives of views that are not solidly behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: candidates such as former president Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, the close aide to outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Then, authorities prohibited the one-on-one televised debates that in 2009 produced dramatic clashes between Ahmadinejad and his chief rival, Mir Hossein Mousavi. This sparring had increased public interest in the election and may have contributed to the high turnout of more than 80 percent. Finally, for the three weeks of the officil campaign, the government blanketed the streets with police and plainclothes security to prevent the sort of rallies that turned major squares and Tehran’s central Vali-Asr avenue into night-long parties in the run-up to the 2009 vote. This was a particularly hard blow to Iranian young people, who have few other opportunities to have a good time in public. (In my experience, young folks only get to come out en masse when Iran celebrates an international soccer victory or during Ashura, a Shiite religious festival that is supposed to be solemn but has turned into an opportunity to mix with members of the opposite sex in public.)
Given these restrictions, flashes of spontaneity this year were limited. But support slowly gathered behind Rowhani after Rafsanjani and former president Mohammad Khatami endorsed him and the lone real reformist in the race dropped out. On the final day of the campaign, Rowhani addressed enthusiastic crowds inside stadiums. There were also reports of least one pro-Rowhani gathering in Tehran’s central Vanak Square on Wednesday and larger rallies in the eastern city of Mashhad. While Iranian officials sought to discourage these demonstrations, they implored people to vote.
In a revealing comment that was also posted on his Twitter account and reflects recognition of his government’s unpopularity, Supreme Leader Khamenei admonished even an Iranian “who may not want to support the Islamic system, but he wants to support his country” to go to the polls. A large turnout -- or as Khamenei called it in the days leading up to the vote, “a political epic” -- would be a blow to Iran’s foreign enemies that are trying to crush the country with sanctions, the leader said.
In the end, more than 70 percent of Iran’s 50 million eligible voters did turn out on Friday. But the message they sent was not the one of “resistance” their leader had sought. They picked a man who said he would try to ease Iran’s isolation and relieve the heavy atmosphere that has turned Iran into such a repressive society.
Back in Istanbul, however, bulldozers were demolishing tents in Gezi park. And Erdogan, who wants to run for president in 2014, is no longer assured a victory from an increasingly energized electorate. That’s democracy at work.