SAN FRANCISCO, California, Jul 28, 2010 (IPS) - A recent poll conducted by a credible Iranian university centre concerning the post-election events of 2009 has found that 56 percent of participants believe President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's popularity has declined over the past year, while just 22 percent believe it has increased.
Opinions of Ahmadinejad in the capital Tehran declined, despite the fact that the president's cabinet enjoys a monopoly over state television and radio stations.
Over the past two years, dozens of reformist publications have been shuttered, and journalists and political activists critical of the government's policies have been arrested and imprisoned.
According to the poll, conducted in Tehran in June by the Iranian Student Polling Agency (ISPA), two-thirds of the 1,172 people surveyed believe that dissatisfaction with the government remains widespread, if largely covert.
"Ahmadinejad's popularity has been in question since before the election last year, and the main reason for that is the perception that his administration has mismanaged the Iranian economy," Jason Rezaian, a Tehran-based journalist, told IPS. "Given the deteriorating financial situation of most Iranians, it's increasingly hard to argue otherwise."
ISPA is related to Jahad Daneshgahi, an academic body that operates under the oversight of the High Council for Cultural Revolution, which is headed by President Ahmadinejad.
Jahad Daneshgahi is managed by a Board of Trustees whose members include the minister of science, research, and technology, a deputy president, the Supreme Leader's representative at the universities, and the minister of health and medical education. The organisation is well known for the surveys it conducts for governmental and security agencies.
A few months before Ahmadinejad's first term election in 2005, ISPA conducted a nationwide survey in which a majority said that the candidate who addresses people's economic concerns had the best chance of winning the elections.
Eighteen percent of those who participated in the latest survey believe that the government was able to control the post-election protests. Evaluating the performance of Iran's state-run radio and television, which played a pivotal role in broadcasting the government's version of events, more than 75 percent of the survey participants said that the media's performance was below average (50 percent said weak or very weak).
Eighty percent of the survey participants said that economic issues such as inflation, lack of affordable housing and unemployment were their main priorities. Lack of political and social freedoms was rated at just seven percent, international threats such as military attacks or economic sanctions related to the country's nuclear proramme at four percent, and weakening Islamic values at six percent.
In recent months, the Iranian police have aggressively tried to enforce a strict Hijab on Iranian youth and women, following a conservative backlash against perceived loosening of the Islamic dress code. But the survey implies that the worsening economic situation has now overshadowed these kinds of social issues.
Since the disputed June 2009 presidential election in which President Ahmadinejad won a second term, the Iranian government has refused to grant permission for any public gathering in support of the two defiant rival candidates.
Over 5,000 protesters were arrested and a dozens killed on the streets during the post-election unrest. But despite the government's ongoing crackdown and control over the media and judiciary, the survey suggests that the voice of the opposition has not been silenced.
Last week, when the Revolutionary Guards' Chief Commander Mohammad Ali Jafari was asked by a reporter, "Why haven't those IRGC members who supported the 'sedition' [the term used for post-election opposition groups] been confronted?", he replied that, "They became convinced that it was a mistake."
"This is far better than a physical confrontation and elimination," he said.
Jafari's statements were particularly notable in view of the fact that it was the first time a public official acknowledged the existence of a group of IRGC members who supported the protest movement and opposition leaders. However, Jafari did not provide any details about the numbers or level of support of those IRGC forces for the political opposition.
Pressure has increased among hardliners in recent months to conduct trials of the "sedition heads", meaning the two 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
"A legal trial will take place in due time," Jafari said, adding that, "They themselves have realised that they no longer have any popularity among the people and this is their biggest trial and punishment."
Nima Naderi, a journalist in Tehran, told IPS that, "Both reformists and traditional conservatives are hoping to see Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's popularity reduced in view of next year's parliamentary elections."
"Ahmadinejad is attempting to increase his popularity among ordinary people who may not be following political issues closely," Naderi said. "Actions such as agreeing to the return of some Los Angeles-based Iranian singers, or announcing that men wearing neckties is not a problem, are aimed to portray him as a supporter of social freedom."
Details of the survey appeared last week on the Kalame website, which has ties to Mousavi. Since then, conservative websites like Rajanews have challenged the results as biased.
Foreign polling organisations are not allowed to operate inside Iran, even with the cooperation of local partners. In 2002, the Iranian security forces arrested Abbas Abadi, a prominent politician who ran a polling institute in Tehran that conducted a poll on behalf of Gallup.
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