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David A. Andelman: Strawberries Beneath the Chadors

The pair of Iranian women, clad head-to-foot in black chadors are sitting on the floor in the ante-room waiting patiently, hopefully, desperately for the audience with their president that they hope might lift a tiny corner of the curtain of poverty that had enveloped them. Hours had passed and they are becoming increasingly frustrated. “I swear on the Koran, I can’t afford strawberries,” moans one. “I swear on the Koran, my child wanted strawberries. I had to save three weeks to buy them.” “You have to put on a strong face for your children,” says her friend. “Like a movie actress.” Then it all begins pouring out. The frustration, the panic, the desperation. Three weeks to wait for strawberries, and then $4 a kilo. I wait three weeks to go to the government subsidized store. It’s cheaper. Bananas are $2 a kilo. No milk, no yogurt, no meat. What should we eat? Yesterday, I was on the bus. Someone had bought some meat. And I wanted it. I asked her 'how much'? She bought it for $17. That little meat in her hand cost $17. We are retired with just $200 a month. So Mr. Ahmadinejad, what should we eat?” This dialogue was at the heart of an extraordinary documentary record assembled by the international filmmaker Petr Lom, whose “Letters to the President” will be shown on June 10 on HBO. That’s two days before voters will go to the polls in Iran to elect their new president, or re-elect the incumbent. The documentary revolves around one central component of the re-election strategy of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—the letters that two million or more people have sent, e-mailed, or simply flung at him in his barnstorming trips around the nation. Nearly all the letters have one overwhelming theme: help me. I have no money, no job, my family is in desperate straits. Few receive any help or even real encouragement. Most will receive a reply. In a handful of cases, there is money attached. But for most, it is like the lottery. A few win. Most lose. But will hope spring eternal?

Jonathan Power: Can the European Parliament Help Change Europe?

Welcome to the new era of democracy. Elections for the European Parliament, whose 736 elected members represent the 500 million citizens of the 27 member states of the European Union, take place at the end of the week.

Not since the time of the Roman Empire has there been such an agglomeration of the peoples of the world. This election will be the biggest transnational election in the history of humanity.

But a tower of Babel it is not. The Parliament is the under-reported Cinderella of the European Union. When the Treaty of Lisbon comes into effect, after what seems likely to be a successful Irish referendum in October, a re-ordering of the governance of the EU will give the Parliament more power, and will strengthen the authority of the Council of Ministers with a permanent president. (Finally, as Henry Kissinger wryly observed, he'll only have only one phone number to dial). To some it appears to be a contradictory development, but there is no reason why both should not be able to tolerate each others' new powers.

Mira Kamdar: "Our Man in Kerala" — World Policy Journal and India's 2009 General Elections

Mira KamdarLong-time World Policy Journal editorial board member Shashi Tharoor has been elected to India’s parliament in the country’s fifteenth general election.  Running from his home town of Thiruvananthapuram, Tharoor garnered a historic margin of victory of more than 100,000 votes. “I am truly humbled by the extraordinary level of trust the voters of Thiruvananthapuram have placed in me, and I am conscious that now is when the real work begins,” wrote Tharoor, a man on the move, from his Blackberry. Tharoor’s success helped the Congress Party, on whose ticket he ran, win a landslide victory. Trouncing predictions of a fractured and fragile coalition as the most likely outcome of an election in which more than 400 million of India’s 700 million-plus eligible voters cast ballots in five phases over one month, India’s grand, old Congress Party won outright 262 of the 272-seat majority required to form a government. The stunning victory by the party that came to power with the birth of the Republic of India more than 60 years ago has left both India’s Left and Right in tatters.

. Such a clear mandate by a party that has positioned itself as a force for religious tolerance and economic growth tempered by concern for India’s very poor majority has been hailed by business leaders around the world as a welcome outcome. India’s stock exchanges shot up on the news. But as Tharoor points out, Congress has little time to waste on celebration. India is facing a gauntlet of serious challenges, and the ability of the new government to chart a course through a widening wealth gap, a deteriorating environment, a growing water and agricultural crisis, and hemorrhaging cities—while dealing with a region fraught with conflict and insecurity—is not made easier by the current global economic and climate crises.



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