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Iran's election: people and power

About the author
David Hayes is deputy editor of openDemocracy, which he co-founded in 2000. He has written textbooks on human rights and terrorism, and was a contributor to Town and Country (Jonathan Cape, 1998). His work has been published in PN Review, the Irish Times, El Pais, the Iran Times International, the Canberra Times, the Scotsman, the New Statesman and The Absolute Game

He has edited five print collections of material from the openDemocracy website, including Europe and Islam; Turkey: Writers, Politics, and Free Speech; and Europe: Visions, Realities, Futures. He is the editor of Fred Halliday's Political Journeys - the openDemocracy Essays (Saqi, 2011)

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Ramin Jahanbegloo: An illiberal election

A new chapter in the short history of Iran's Islamic regime.

There is no light without shadow. Though the level of public engagement in the Iranian presidential election of 12 June 2009 is extraordinary, the controversial result in favour of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the vote overshadows the democratic passion of the Iranian population.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is professor of political science at the University of Toronto

Also by Ramin Jahanbegloo:

"America's dreaming" (30 August 2004) - with Richard Rorty

"Iran's conservative triumph" (28 June 2005)

"Richard Rorty: living in dialogue" (20 June 2007)

"The modern Gandhi" (30 January 2008)

"Olympics of shame" (9 April 2008)
Ahmadinejad was elected in 2005 on a populist platform of fighting corruption and promoting better income-distribution. Many people - especially the rural and urban poor - bought into this. But in the last four years, he has failed on all counts: his presidency has been characterised by economic mismanagement, violation of human rights, and foreign-policy adventurism.

Ahmadinejad's political base is among people in rural areas, the lower-middle class and traditionalist or religious groups outside the big cities. This means that a low voter turnout would make his re-election more likely. A declared 85% turnout makes it hard to believe that Ahmadinejad's landslide re-election on 12 June was - as he claims - a plain and simple conservative victory of the kind that can happen in any liberal electoral system in the world.

In fact, the election looks less like the legitimate outcome of a democratic election than an orchestrated and unprecedented strike against Iranian reformists. Moreover, the results show that absolute power is a real thing in Iran, while democracy remains an ideal - and that the confusion between what is real and what is ideal has punishing effects on the country's people.

It is still too early for anything like a comprehensive analysis of the election's implications, but it can be said that this event has already opened a new chapter in the short history of Iran's Islamic regime. It is also evident that the violent efforts of the Ahmadinejad administration and the security forces to conceal the number of irregularities and falsifications highlighted by the official opposition and urban voters are a gift to all those in Washington, Jerusalem and European and middle-eastern capitals who have been sceptical about Iran's capacity to change and to engage in a dialogue with the United States and the rest of the world.

The result of this election is to deepen the rift within the Islamic Republic between those who believe that normal economic and political relations with the west are vital to Iran's future and those who disdain such relations as violations of the Islamic revolution's ideals. At moments like this, it should not be forgotten that each time democracy is intimidated, silenced and postponed for another day by a show of force in a country like Iran, it is a loss of credibility for those in charge and a crisis of legitimacy for the entire political system.

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Anoush Ehteshami: An implausible victory

An election that has finally discredited Iran's post-revolution governance system.

Hindsight is a great analytical tool! Since the results of Iran's tenth presidential elections were announced on 13 June, all manner of pundit, analyst and commentator has been looking for signs that might have made this unwelcome outcome inevitable. Some have said that the whole process of elections in the Islamic Republic is rigged by the very nature of candidate "selection" by the other organs of the state. This is a race in which the contenders are screened for their loyalty to the regime and for their absolute acceptance of the status of the supreme leader before being allowed to stand.

Anoush Ehteshami is professor of international relations at Durham University

Also by Anoush Ehteshami:

"Iran and the United States: back from the brink" (16 March 2007)
The contest is thus an elite one by definition, and in practice it excludes a vast array of opinion and political persuasion in the country. Since only a lucky few are from the beginning allowed to take part as candidates, it can hardly be called "free and fair".

The choice this system offers the electorate is extremely narrow. In effect the dozen old men of the Guardian Council tell the Iranian electorate of over 40 million potential voters: we know best what is good for you; your interests are identical with those of the regime; we will allow you to choose between a few pro-regime candidates. Such preconditions hardly fit any model of true democracy. Yet the Iranians seem to have accepted all this, and continue both to nominate themselves for office (often in their hundreds) and to vote in their millions.

Despite these flaws and restrictions, many analysts have been content to highlight the virtues of Iran's electoral politics as a "work in progress"'. They see in Iran's youthful and enthusiastic population - 70% of whom are below the age of 30 - real hope for the future. They have also often argued that at least once the candidates are selected for entry to the competition, the process from that point is fair, transparent and genuinely open. This reflects faith that this process can evolve to the point that Iran becomes the region's most open society and democracy. So long as the electorate's wishes are honoured by the state, and so long as the contestants continue to represent a wide range of political opinion, then (the argument goes) everything would come right - eventually.

Alas, the results of the presidential election on 12 June have hauled a long shadow over this line of reasoning. Even in 2005, there was evidence of fraud that was dismissed as the loser's sour complaint; but this time around, its extent is so vast and unprecedented that it is impossible to dismiss it as a minor irregularity that had little impact on the outcome of the race.

This wholesale fraud robbed the people of their true choice. It is extraordinary to see the two pro-reform candidates (Mir-Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi) and their supporters openly challenge the electoral outcome. The slogans and style of the demonstrations are indeed reminiscent of the early days of the revolution in which a previously hesitant population finally seemed to find a collective voice of protest. The members of the elite who still remember the rooftop cries of defiance in 1978-79 will have taken note.

The state has used the huge voter turnout to legitimise a counter-revolution. The state's use of force (even in face of the international media) and the swift arrest of a large number of pro-reform leaders - who are themselves all part of the political establishment - seem to reflect a premeditated strategy of suppression. In fear of the "velvet revolution", the political right in Iran has carried out a "velvet coup".

For all these reasons and more, the tenth presidential election in Iran has finally discredited Iran's post-revolution governance system; and created fissures within the elite, and between state and society, that could lead eventually led to the wholesale restructuring of the republic.

Meanwhile, the regional and international implications of current developments in Iran are yet to unfold. But this series of events in Iran's domestic politics - far from finished - will leave a dramatic mark on the tempo of politics beyond Iran too for many years to come.

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Nazenin Ansari: Six factors, four questions

The pillars of the theocratic state are trembling. Iran is living through a historic moment.

The huge street protests in Tehran on 15 June against the officially declared results of the presidential election three days earlier are breaking new ground. In assessing where they might lead, it is worth recalling previous confrontations between the regime's militias and Iranian citizens since 1999. These have included separate upheavals involving students, women campaigners, ethnic minorities in Iran's provinces, trade unions, teacher associations and even Shi'a groups (including Gonabadi Sufis and those opposed to theocracy). All, even the most intense, were crushed within a few days. Will the current turmoil have a different outcome?

Nazenin Ansari is diplomatic correspondent of Kayhan (London)

Also by Nazenin Ansari:

"Iranians on the freedom path" (14 February 2006)

"An ayatollah under siege - in Tehran" (4 October 2006)

"Tehran's new political dynamic" (16 April 2007)

"The rights of Iran's women" (18 May 2009)
It may do - for six reasons. First, the catalyst of the election process and its fraudulent aftermath means that the previously protesting sectors have now been joined by the educated, professional, urban elite.

Second, whereas these earlier instances involved only one sector of society at any given time, today various sectors of society have come together to denounce the election outcome.

Third, the previous protests set civil society against the state. This time, the inner core of the state has turned against figures who are or have been part of it - including Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (a former president), Mir-Hossein Moussavi (a former prime minister), and Mehdi Karroubi (a former speaker of the majlis). These men have support inside the regime, including ministries, parallel organisations and the security apparatus. In addition, the most disenfranchised sectors of society which have long lacked organisational focus to channel their opposition to power now have access to some supportive national political associations and communication networks.

Fourth, the presence of international broadcasters in the country and the access of many Iranians to new media changes the information-flows to the detriment of the government. The Farsi-language broadcasts of the BBC Persian service, the Persian News Network, Radio Farda, the Voice of America - as well as the internet - deprives the state of its monopoly of the means of communication.

Fifth, there is evidence - including from the massive protests in Tehran - that law-enforcement agents have on various occasions retreated from the demonstrators or even pleaded with the demonstrators to go home. The shooting of at least one demonstrator - and Iran's official news agency stated on 16 June that the death-toll a day earlier was seven - underlines the dangers, but this evidence indicates that the state can no longer rely on the unquestioned loyalty of the police and security forces.

Sixth, the international atmospherics are very different. The diplomatic urgency that surrounds the Islamic Republic of Iran's nuclear file gives the "Iran story" extra spice and ensures that it will remain in the spotlight.

Momentous events are in train. What happens next? The final outcome of the popular uprising - as it now appears to be - will depend on at least four variables:

  • will the offer of a re-run election appease the popular protests and allow the state to recover its balance, or will the wave spread and escalate beyond the state's control? Similarly, will the announcement by the Guardian Council on 16 June that it is prepared to recount votes in contested areas be sufficient to becalm the opposition?
  • will the important trio of Rafsanjani and the reformist presidential candidates Moussavi and Karroubi maintain legitimacy and (in Moussavi's case) assert a claim to be the real winner of the election; will they even lead the people towards a challenge to and transformation of the ruling system?
  • will this establishment opposition grouping create links with regional, ethnic, and labour activists, and others opposing the Velayat-e Faqih?
  • how far will the state go to suppress the opposition?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       The collective weight of tumultuous social protest is making the pillars of the theocratic state tremble. Iran is living through a historic moment.

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Omid Memarian: A circle of fraud

The scale of what has been perpetrated in Tehran casts new light on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime.

The possibility of fraud in Iran's presidential election on 12 June 2009 was predicted. What goes beyond any expectation is the declared result and the subsequent events - including the arrest of major reformist figures, the well-prepared police street deployments and the detailed voting information published by the interior ministry. Yet in another way it is all too predictable: for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could hardly have qualified for the second round of the elections in 2005 without cheating, nor could he have possibly "won" the presidency in 2009 in any other way.

Omid Memarian is a journalist who writes for the IPS news agency

Also by Omid Memarian in openDemocracy:

"Under the radar: an Iranian and America" (17 August 2006)

"Iran and the United States: time to engage" (2 May 2007)

"Ahmadinejad, Iran and America" (15 January 2007) - with Dariush Zahedi

"Iran: prepared for the worst" (30 October 2007)

"Iran on the move" (11 June 2009)
The planning for the fraud started when he appointed a certain Sadeq Mahsouli- a loyal supporter who had spent millions of dollars on Ahmadinijad's campaign - as his minister of the interior. The president's loyalists then replaced many of the officials and even lowly employees at the ministry's election headquarters. When, for the first time in Iran's post-1979 history, the people in charge of elections - responsible for supervising them and reviewing complaints - all belong to Ahmadinejad's side, the circle of fraud is complete.

The outcome? Ridiculous numbers, unbelievable even for many conservatives in Iran.

What are the lessons and consequences of such a fraud? Here are seven important ones:

* Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is more dangerous than expected. Whether Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was a piece in his game or not, the the supreme leader has very greatly damaged the image of the Islamic regime. "Down with the dictator" has never been heard so loudly, not even at the time of the 1979 revolution

* The election was a pre-planned coup against the reformists. The Iranian leaders could no longer tolerate reformists or allow into power those who call for democracy, human rights, transparency and engaging with the international community

* The Islamic Republic of Iran is shifting to the Islamic Government of Iran - a transition that might be brutal, bloody and costly for Iranians

*An engagement with the west, possibly including the United States, will jeopardise Iran's new order. Ahmadinejad, and the masterminds behind this "transition" believe they can run the society based on a Chinese model (an economy-based state with some privatisation and political repression); but this does not suit or match the characteristics of today's Iranian society

* The Islamic Republic has always been proud of its regular elections and its (semi)-circulation of power among a (selected) shortlist of people. The 12 June 2009 election killed that pride

* Ahmadinejad's opponents have since spring 2009 severely criticised him and sought to bring him down. Now, it's Ahmadinejad's turn. The president's press arm, the Fars News Agency, clearly put it "it's time to perform surgery on the regime". The surgery will start soon.

* We now know, if there were ever any doubts, what many Iranians are striving for: democracy.

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Grace Nasri: A message to the west

Iran's people want freedom and democracy. The west must take care not to get in the way.

The echo of 1978-79 and the the Islamic revolution is everywhere, even for those too young to remember or born later. A sea of protesters - men and women, of all ages, clad in western styles and in the full hijab - peacefully throngs the streets and chants from the rooftops, the demand for rights and opposition to injustice on everyone's lips.

Grace Nasri is the assistant editor of an Iranian newspaper published in the United StatesToday's protesters against the official announcement of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory in the presidential election on 12 June have already secured one concession: supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's promise of an "investigation" into this outcome.

This is a signal of the intense pressure on the Iranian regime - from within the elite itself, from its own people, and from the international arena. These were already evident during the election campaign, in (for example) Ahmadinejad's attack on Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on grounds of corruption, which in turn provoked the influential former president to criticise Khamenei for not intervening to stop the allegations. Now, after the questionably fraudulent election, the people have piled more pressure on the regime with their immense mobilisation in Tehran.

Those who have taken to the streets do not all advocate regime change, but they do want more openness and democracy. This is where the third source of pressure - powerful states outside Iran (especially the United States, Europe and Israel) - need to be cautious and sensitive, especially in refraining from any statements or actions that may unintentionally encourage the Iranians to move away from the path they are on.

A political system on the verge of change exhibits two major signs: a crack within the leadership, and a widening gap between what the people want and what the system provides.

In the current fluid and delicate circumstances, the United States, Europe and Israel must be careful to allow the emerging democratic movement in Iran to breathe, and refrain from actions that imperil it.

The pressure from within may be enough to force change on the Iranian regime in the direction of openness and democracy. But the wrong sort of pressure from without could yet put this into reverse. The external powers most concerned by and involved in events in Iran could, by seeing the turmoil in Tehran as an opportunity to promote short-term interests, thwart the Iranians' historic struggle. The future relationship between the Iranian people and the international community will depend on how the world behaves towards Iran today.

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Nasrin Alavi: "Shall I tell?"

The election campaign and its aftermath are a lesson in power and character. Now it's a fight to the end.

Iranians are discovering more every day about the man who has governed them for four years and - even now - hopes to do so for another four. During the election campaign he was often seen surrounded by adoring crowds. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's opponents have long accused him of busing in "extras" for these scenes, but this was confirmed only when an an official memorandum was revealed by Mohsen Rezaei - one of his three electoral rivals, and a former head of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) - indicating that each Basij (militia) centre was required to send 80-120 people to a pre-election rally.

Nasrin Alavi is the author of We Are Iran: The Persian Blogs (Portobello Books, 2005)

Also by Nasrin Alavi:

"Iran's election signals" (18 March 2008)

"Iranians' interrupted freedom" (8 October 2008)

"Iran: after the dawn" (2 February 2009)

"Iran: the waiting game" (24 March 2009)
Such numbers soon add up. But they are far outweighed by those involved in the conduct of the presidential election by Sadeq Mahsouli - Iran's interior minister and an intimate ally of the president since university days.

The official figures published by the interior ministry tell an extraordinary story. They are, for example, in the main inconsistent with traditional urban and rural voting patterns, including those reflecting ethnic loyalties. In the presidential election of 2005, Mohsen Mehr'Alizadeh came last. But he was still the leading candidate in his home state of Azerbaijan, gaining over a million votes there. This time round, Ahmadinejad's results throughout the country show a consistent victory margin of 63%, even in the home towns of his opponents - including the Azeri heartland of his main opponent, Mir-Hossein Moussavi. It is as if a clean line has been hand-drawn across the country; and it doesn't look good for a president so preoccupied with appearances.

The supposed 333,635 votes of the other reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi's were also at odds with his performance in the 2005 election, when he had received 5,066,316 votes to Ahmadinejad's 5,710,354. It appears that Karroubi even had more registered party canvassers than votes. Even the third candidate in the election, the president's fellow-conservative Mohsen Rezaei, was led by these absurdities to lodge an official complaint to the Guardian Council - which on 16 June agreed to re-examine the results in contested areas (and that's a lot of results).

For supporters of Mir-Hossein Mousavi, the source of what has happened is clear. I have asked many of them - largely passionate about the man and convinced of the reality of mass election fraud - why him? There are lots of answers, but there's always "that debate".

The innovative live televised presidential debates of 2009 saw Ahmadinejad in the unusual situation of being obliged to face stern criticism from his opponents on air. The key moment in releasing an outpouring of support for his main rival was when Ahmadinejad, in Kafkaesque-interrogator pose, waved a file questioning the academic credentials of Moussavi's distinguished wife, Zahra Rahnavard. Ahmadinejad withheld the name but threatened to reveal it with a repeated: "Shall I tell? Shall I tell?"

Moussavi dealt with this shameless bullying with the quiet confidence of a mature statesman, calmly inviting the president to "tell". Moussavi then looked at the camera and said, more firmly: "People! I have come to change this state of affairs, where Iranians are all considered guilty until proven innocent and where government ministers are more concerned about compiling slanderous dossiers then serving the people".

In his calls for change, Moussavi had been inclusive; he even asked the Basij for support. But the handling of the election results, the brutal attacks and mass arrests of his allies that followed - all have exposed the totalising ambitions of his opponents.

"They", to use the word Iranians commonly direct at the powerful, are today revealed as the architects of their own misfortune. "They" have made this a fight to the end.

Rasool Nafisi: A crisis of legitimacy

The post-election period will shape the future of democracy in Iran. Rasool Nafisi teaches the sociology of development at Strayer University in Virginia

Also by Rasool Nafisi:

"The meaning of Ramin Jahanbegloo's arrest" (16 May 2006)

"Ramin Jahanbegloo: a repressive release" (1 September 2006)

"Haleh Esfandiari: Iran's cultural prison" (17 May 2007)

"Iran's majlis elections: the hidden dynamics" (11 April 2008)

The civil disobedience in Iran marks a turning-point in the Islamic Republic's history. Although the immediate cause of the unrest is the alleged elections fraud, the extent of this civil unrest - and it extends nationwide, far beyond Tehran - points to a much deeper discontent with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the "new regime" he represents. This regime - which relies largely on support from the army and militia forces under the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) umbrella, some of the arch-conservative clerics in Qom, and popular support from the urban and rural poor - has the blessing of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad's presidency has managed to polarise the Islamic Republic to an unprecedented degree. The ruling elite is more divided than at any time since 1979. The key schism is between hardliners who deny the republican nature of the regime and are moving toward more radical and "securocrat" positions, and those who still believe in the republican as well as the Islamic nature of the state; the latter include reformists who espouse increasingly moderate and even progressive positions. The tenth presidential elections are the culmination of this conflict and contrast.

The conflict is made possible by the paradoxical nature of the Islamic state, which has brought to the fore calls for substantive democracy through the expansion of education, free national elections, and freedom of the press. The election campaign of 2009 - especially the live television debates between leading candidates - fuelled the aspiration for more democracy. When the official results failed to reflect this national aspiration, those supporting the democratising trend chose to pursue the cause by other means. Mehdi Karroubi, one of the two defeated reformist candidates (besides Mir-Hossein Moussavi) said that since is no longer possible to bring change through the elections, "other means" must be sought. This sentiment is reflected in the decision of hundreds of thousands of Iranians to take to the streets. In this respect, whether or not the elections were fraudulent is less important than that they did not correspond the desire of the majority of urban voters for meaningful change.

The coming days will shape the future of democratic forces in Iran. The regime's acceptance of fair and free re-elections is the only proper way to respond to this crisis. Such a major policy change would be very difficult for the regime to contemplate. More likely is that the government will continue to issue empty promises to contain the pressures on it, while repressing the population and depriving them as far as possible of access to various means of communication.

Sanam Vakil: Electoral quake, political aftershock

Both state and society have gambled. A political compromise may emerge as the only way to heal their rift. Sanam Vakil is a visiting scholar and adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) in Washington, DC and Bologna, Italy

Also by Sanam Vakil:

"Iran's nuclear gamble" (1 February 2007)

"Iran's hostage politics" (2 April 2007)

"The Iran-American dialogue: enemies within" (4 June 2007)

"Iran's political shadow-war" (16 July 2008)

"Iran's election and Iran's system" (21 April 2009)

The dramatic events since Iran's presidential election on 12 June continue to evolve minute by minute. The brazen victory of the incumbent hardliner, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has engendered a massive outpouring against the ruling elite's flagrant electoral improprieties. The broad shape of what is happening seems clear, even if the final outcome of the current struggle is far from certain.

Two things about the post-election turmoil are striking. It reflects the sharpening of fissures inside the Iranian polity, and it involves a high-stakes gamble by both Iran's state elite and Iranian society. Each is calling the other's bluff in an unprecedented, internal fight for control of Iran's political future.

The logic of the hardline inner elite's response to the election is plain. The popular ("green wave") mobilisation behind Mir-Hossein Moussavi's campaign had suggested that the reformist candidate (and former prime minister) posed a real threat to Ahmadinejad's re-election. The record voter turnout - amid evidence of political passion last seen when the reformist Mohammad Khatami was elected in 1997 - forced regime hardliners into action: both to protect their control of the state by securing Ahmadinejad's victory, and to convey a new message to domestic and international audiences alike.

In domestic terms, the political message is resounding: zero-tolerance towards reformers and the supporters of change. In international terms, the hardliners are signalling - including to those who hope for a moderate and malleable Iran - that they are the ultimate arbiters of power in Iran's complicated political system, and thus in charge of any future negotiations.

This group faces two problems. First, the Iranian elite is more polarised than ever. The cadre around the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei clings to the ideology and tradition of the revolution, while the factions around Moussavi and former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami are reasserting their demands for political and social change. These rival circles, contemporaries in revolution and once allies, have very different visions of Iran's future.

Second, the public challenge to the announcement of Ahmadinejad's triumph has been surprising and overwhelming. There are continuing protests and demonstrations in Tehran and many other Iranian cities, some of which have involved and been met with violence. The supreme leader, qualifying his initial validation of the results, has now attempted to placate the opposition by calling on the Guardian Council to scrutinise contested votes.

The situation is poised. The mobilisation of a large part of Iranian society has forced the regime to consider the consequences of its dangerous venture. The reverberations from these momentous days will be felt by the Iranian polity for years to come. The regime will attempt to hold its position via concessions intended to mitigate further electoral aftershocks. But both this strategy and the alternative one of using state power to undertake a large-scale purge of opponents would alike amount only to short-term band-aids for an already weakened Islamic Republic.

The regime will offer stiff resistance to any overturning of the results of the election, and to any other outcome than four more turbulent years with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. In these circumstances, a tactical compromise between government and political opposition might emerge as the only realistic way to restore national stability and repair Iran's social and political ruptures.

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Farhang Jahanpour: A stolen election

The only way to avoid a further escalation of crisis is to convene a fresh vote. 

The great events unfolding in Iran have some way to go before they reach a form of resolution. For this moment to be reached, it remains essential that what exactly happened in the presidential election - of which the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the outright winner with 63% of the vote on an 85% turnout - is established beyond doubt.

Many opposition supporters believe that the official results of the  election are indeed fraudulent. The authorities in Iran dispute this vehemently. A number of reports and assessments in the western media have also argued that the landslide victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is most likely genuine (see Ken Ballen & Patrick Doherty, "The Iranian People Speak" [Washington Post, 15 June 2009] and George Friedman, "Western Misconceptions Meet Iranian Reality" [Stratfor, 15 June 2009]).

A great deal clearly depends on this issue, making it important to look at the election and its aftermath to see whether the results can be trusted or not (see Mansoor Moaddel, "Iran Election Fraud: Moaddel on Ballen and Doherty", Informed Comment, 18 June 2009) and Muhammad Sahimi, "Why Ahmadinejad did not win" [Tehran Bureau, 17 June 2009]).

In examining this issue, six points can be made. First, in all previous elections in Iran, a number of observers from different candidates were admitted to the polling stations and during the counting of the votes to prevent vote-rigging. This time, however, very few observers were allowed to witness the voting.

Second, in all previous elections, the number of votes cast in each constituency and the number of spoilt ballots were released before the announcement of the results. Later, detailed results  from different provinces and constituencies were published separately. This did not happen this time, and the results were declared in a haphazard way.

Third, after the results are collated and given to the ministry of the interior and the supervisory bodies, the rules prescribe that they should be sent to the Guardian Council (the body in charge of verifying the results). The Guardian Council must approve the way that the voting and counting has been carried; only then are the results revealed. This time that procedure was not followed.

Fourth, Mir-Hossein Moussavi claimed in a press conference soon after voting ended that on the basis of the exit-polls conducted by his headquarters at different constituencies, he was on course for a big victory. Then, within the same hour and in great haste, the Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna) quoted the interior ministry to report that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was already ahead with over 60% of the votes (a percentage that, oddly, remained the same throughout the counting of votes over the next twenty-four hours).

Fifth, the results were put together in such an amateurish way that none of the reformist candidates won a majority even in his own constituency. The popular former majlis speaker Mehdi Karroubi, who comes from a tribal region in Lorestan with strong ethnic bonds, was said to have received only 3% of the votes in his hometown of Aligudarz. His 44,036 votes were dwarfed by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 677,829 - in other words, Ahmadinejad received fifteen times more votes than his reformist rival in the rival's birthplace, though Karroubi in 2005 had won six times more votes here than Ahmadinejad. In the 2005 presidential election, Karroubi received 5 million votes nationwide - which are said to have collapsed to 300,000 in 2009 (see Juan Cole, "Stealing the Iranian Election", Informed Comment, 13 June 2009).

Mir-Hossein Moussavi is a native of Khamene, a town in eastern Azerbaijan with strong ethnic ties. Here, he allegedly received 837, 858 votes (42%),against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's 1,131,000. A similar fate befell Mohsen Rezaei, the other rightwing candidate; in his native Masjed Soleyman, in Khuzestan province, his 139,000 was crushed by Ahmadinejad's 1,500,000.

The president broke the pattern in the area of his own birthplace of Aradan in Semnan province; there he  received 295,177 votes, against  77,754 votes for his nearest rival, Moussavi.

Sixth, the percentage of votes for the two leading candidates throughout the country were almost uniform. Ahmadinejad received nearly twice the number of votes of Moussavi in every province (with the exception of West Azerbaijan and Sistan-Baluchistan, two of the least populous provinces). Some electoral experts argue that in view of the enormous regional, ethnic and linguistic differences in different parts of Iran, such a close correlation between the votes of the two main candidates is statistically impossible.

The available evidence makes it safe to conclude that the official election results were fraudulent. Indeed, the outcome was nothing short of a coup d'etat by Ayatollah Khamenei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against the will of the nation. This situation demands that new elections are held under independent supervision, as the only way to resolve what might otherwise become an even more dangerous crisis.

Among openDemocracy's many articles about Iran:

Ardashir Tehrani, "Iran's presidential coup" (26 June 2005)

Fred Halliday, "Iran's revolutionary spasm" (30 June 2005)

Trita Parsi, "The Iran-Israel cold war" (28 October 2005)

Nayereh Tohidi, "Iran: regionalism, ethnicity and democracy" (28 June 2006)

Hooshang Amirahmadi, "Iran and the international community: roots of perpetual crisis" (24 November 2006)

Kamin Mohammadi, "Voices from Tehran" (31 January 2007)

Fred Halliday, "The matter with Iran" (1 March 2007)

Anoush Ehteshami, "Iran and the United States: back from the brink" (16 March 2007)

Rasool Nafisi, "Iran's cultural prison" (17 May 2007)

Nasrin Alavi, "The Iran paradox" (11 October 2007)

Omid Memarian, "Iran: prepared for the worst" (30 October 2007)

Sanam Vakil, "Iran's political shadow war" (16 July 2008)

Nasrin Alavi, "Iran: after the dawn" (2 February 2009)

Abbas Milani, "Iran's Islamic revolution: three paradoxes" (9 February 2009)

Homa Katouzian, "The Iranian revolution: beyond enigma" (13 February 2009)

Nikki R Keddie, "Iranian women and the Islamic Republic" (24 February 2009)

Fred Halliday, "Iran's revolution in global history" (2 March 2009)

Sanam Vakil & David Hayes, "Iran's election and Iran's system" (21 April 2009)

Nasrin Alavi, "Iran: a blind leap of faith" (2 June 2009)

Fred Halliday, "Iran's evolution and Islam's Berlusconi" (9 June 2009)

Omid Memarian, "Iran on the move" (11 June 2009)


 


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