The Duck of Minerva

The Duck Quacks at Twilight

Iran, competitive authoritarian regimes, and fraud

June 13, 2009

I agree with Josh Tucker that Iran doesn’t really fit the major categories of regime-type au currant in comparative politics, but, as I also suggest in comments, we should only lose sleep over that if we treat analytic types as filing boxes for cases rather than, say, as ideal-typifications. Still, if the analysis I’m seeing from reliable sources (and I, like Randy, have no idea what to make of the election outcome in Iran), it does seem that the regime engaged in some pretty brazen fraud of one form or another.

If that’s right, then we’re looking at a familiar dynamic: while most observers would have believed a fraudulent result that netted Ahmadinejad around 52-55% of the vote, the reported results just aren’t very credible. So why inflate margins in fraudulent elections?

Unfortunately, this isn’t a literature I know terribly well. But if what we see in the Russian case is generalizable–where no one doubted that the governing party would win, yet it still sought to inflate its margin of victory–such regimes seek greater “legitimacy” than a close election allows for. More generally, close results create more ambiguity as to the actual victor; indeed, as a non-Iran expert my initial reaction to the margin was “I guess that, whatever irregularities there might be, Mousavi must have lost.”

Still, assuming that the result was rigged, one has to wonder if the inflated margin here will actually backfire. It certainly seems to have produced incredulous reactions outside of Iran, let alone among opposition supporters in Iran

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.