From a CNN.com article about Rumsfeld’s condemnation of the Iranian elections as a sham.
"So the fact that they had a mock election and elected a hard-liner
ought not come to any surprise to anybody because all the other people
were told they couldn’t run."
Rumsfeld’s comments are pretty much absolutely right here. The election in Iran was not anywhere close to the type of election that a real democracy would have. There ruling Guardian Council, a bunch of theocrats who decide the limits under which democracy will function in Iran, has completely emasculated any functioning opposition in within the country. Given a restricted set of candidates and restrictions on the types of things that could be debated, Iranian voters did not have the full range of choice that they should have had.
It strikes me (TP) as sadly predictable, though, that the current administration has made such a fuss about this sham election while claiming success in other sham elections. Are we really supposed to believe that Egypt deserves credit for "opening up" its electoral process to some more dissent and a bit more opposition activity? Are we supposed to congratulate Saudi Arabia for having municipal elections even though it’s a monarchy? This, after all, is the much lauded new awakening of the Arab people to democracy and liberalism.
Here’s another option. The current administration believes that when dictatorships have fake elections that return US allies, it’s a "step towards democracy". Conversely, when dictatorships have fake elections that return irrascible conservative Islamists, it’s an "illegitimate election". We should note that despite the restrictions on candidacy, the conduct of Iran’s elections is probably more fair in procedural terms than elections any where else in that part of the world, starting at the Turkish border and ending in India.
A subject that attracts scholarly interest every decade or so is the question of what, exactly, makes a democracy. Like, how do you know a democracy when you see one? It’s a surprisingly difficult thing to answer with any degree of precision, but everyone believes that if nothing else, free and fair elections are the gold standard of democracy. But then you have the question of what, exactly, is a free and fair election? If can two elections be on the whole unfair, but one is "more fair" than the other? If so, is that country "more democratic"? It’s hard, but one thing is for sure, Iran–like Egypt–doesn’t have free elections, and that’s too bad.