Localization of National Politics: The Experience of Conducting Elections in Kashan, Iran (1909-10)

By Saghar Bozorgi
Submitted to Session P4974 (State Consolidation and Contestation in Qajar and Pahlavi Iran, 2017 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries; Democratization; Iranian Studies; Modernization; Nationalism;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Iranian Constitutional Revolution is often imagined as a set of events centered in major cities, limiting its history to the experiences of the larger urban centers. We have considerable information on how the Revolution unfolded and later influenced the social and political life of Tehran, Tabriz, and other major cities, but, we know very little on how it was experienced in smaller and more remote parts of the country. This is despite the fact that national elections to the parliament, founded right after the revolution, broadened the reach of central power to many other small and less visible cities and villages. Relying on a set of unpublished archival documents available in the Iranian Majles library in Tehran, this paper traces the new opportunities and struggles, brought by the elections in one of the smaller cities in the center of Iran, Kashan.

I explore the various ways the local population of Kashan participated in and negotiated the process of elections to the second Majles (1909-11), asking what elections did for different actors involved in these struggles, and which kind of tools elections provided for them for framing their power struggle? Primarily based on around 65 documents on different election-related topics, consisting of around 140 pages dated between 1909 and 1910, I argue that the conduct of elections in Kashan enabled its population to engage with and participate in the Constitutional Revolution and the formation of the new political arrangements. This came not only through the simple defined way of casting a ballot, but by intellectual, legal, and even executive participation, expressed in their letters to the parliament. These letters (1) challenged the electoral rules by expressing different expectations and understandings of the constitutional revolution, (2) re-defined the borders, constituencies, and social relations imposed by the electoral rules, and (3) objected the improper/illegal conduct of elections, voter fraud, and voter intimidation. More significantly, the discourse produced by these letters finally prevented one of the elected people from entering the parliament.

Analyzing these letters contributes to our knowledge of the way Iranian Constitutional Revolution was experienced, especially by the “subaltern”. The electoral struggles are not separable from everyday lives of those who were either included in or excluded from the new game. Looking at the historical material produced by the relatively less powerful let us include their views of the new system of representation in the story of the Constitutional Revolution.