Saturday, June 13, 2009

Was the Iranian election stolen?



News from Iran during the past week or so looked promising for reformers to alter the direction of their nation. Mir Hossein Mousavi had become a serious challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Mousavi, a popular former Prime Minister (1981-1989), had rallied those dissatisfied with Ahmadinejad’s handling of the economy and confrontational attitude with the West as well as reformist elements in general in Iran. President Ahmadinejad hard line policies were divisive at home and abroad.

Recent polls and the size of crowds at campaign rallies led to expectations that Mousavi would win. Announcements that Ahmadinejad had won by a landslide has sparked riots. Mousavi and his followers have rejected the results charging that the election was stolen.

Election results should be respected but only if the electoral system has integrity. It is still too early to know what all has transpired during the election across Iran on Friday but there are reasons to suspect Ahmadinejad’s victory was not based on the votes cast. Juan Cole puts together the possible evidence that the election was fraudulent:
Top Pieces of Evidence that the Iranian Presidential Election Was Stolen

1. It is claimed that Ahmadinejad won the city of Tabriz with 57%. His main opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, is an Azeri from Azerbaijan province, of which Tabriz is the capital. Mousavi, according to such polls as exist in Iran and widespread anecdotal evidence, did better in cities and is popular in Azerbaijan. Certainly, his rallies there were very well attended. So for an Azeri urban center to go so heavily for Ahmadinejad just makes no sense. In past elections, Azeris voted disproportionately for even minor presidential candidates who hailed from that province.

2. Ahmadinejad is claimed to have taken Tehran by over 50%. Again, he is not popular in the cities, even, as he claims, in the poor neighborhoods, in part because his policies have produced high inflation and high unemployment. That he should have won Tehran is so unlikely as to raise real questions about these numbers.

3. It is claimed that cleric Mehdi Karoubi, the other reformist candidate, received 320,000 votes, and that he did poorly in Iran's western provinces, even losing in Luristan. He is a Lur and is popular in the west, including in Kurdistan. Karoubi received 17 percent of the vote in the first round of presidential elections in 2005. While it is possible that his support has substantially declined since then, it is hard to believe that he would get less than one percent of the vote. Moreover, he should have at least done well in the west, which he did not.

4. Mohsen Rezaie, who polled very badly and seems not to have been at all popular, is alleged to have received 670,000 votes, twice as much as Karoubi.

5. Ahmadinejad's numbers were fairly standard across Iran's provinces. In past elections there have been substantial ethnic and provincial variations.

6. The Electoral Commission is supposed to wait three days before certifying the results of the election, at which point they are to inform Khamenei of the results, and he signs off on the process. The three-day delay is intended to allow charges of irregularities to be adjudicated. In this case, Khamenei immediately approved the alleged results.

I am aware of the difficulties of catching history on the run. Some explanation may emerge for Ahmadinejad's upset that does not involve fraud. For instance, it is possible that he has gotten the credit for spreading around a lot of oil money in the form of favors to his constituencies, but somehow managed to escape the blame for the resultant high inflation.

But just as a first reaction, this post-election situation looks to me like a crime scene….

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The public demonstrations against the result don't appear to be that big. In the past decade, reformers have always backed down in Iran when challenged by hardliners, in part because no one wants to relive the horrible Great Terror of the 1980s after the revolution, when faction-fighting produced blood in the streets. Mousavi is still from that generation.

My own guess is that you have to get a leadership born after the revolution, who does not remember it and its sanguinary aftermath, before you get people willing to push back hard against the rightwingers.

So, there are protests against an allegedly stolen election. The Basij paramilitary thugs and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards will break some heads. Unless there has been a sea change in Iran, the theocrats may well get away with this soft coup for the moment. But the regime's legitimacy will take a critical hit, and its ultimate demise may have been hastened, over the next decade or two.
You can read Cole’s entire blog piece here and his related article in Salon on here.

2 comments:

paul_h said...

Thanks for this report. The results are tragic. It looks like the fix was in. Khameni urged his people to vote, but it was a sham.

Comrade Kevin said...

In a word, yes.