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Stealing the Iranian Election

by juan cole (reposted)
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. [Ahmadinejad is widely thought only to have won Tehran in 2005 because the pro-reform groups were discouraged and stayed home rather than voting.)

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. And here is how I would reconstruct the crime.

As the real numbers started coming into the Interior Ministry late on Friday, it became clear that Mousavi was winning. Mousavi's spokesman abroad, filmmaker Mohsen Makhbalbaf, alleges that the ministry even contacted Mousavi's camp and said it would begin preparing the population for this victory.

The ministry must have informed Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who has had a feud with Mousavi for over 30 years, who found this outcome unsupportable. And, apparently, he and other top leaders had been so confident of an Ahmadinejad win that they had made no contingency plans for what to do if he looked as though he would lose.

They therefore sent blanket instructions to the Electoral Commission to falsify the vote counts.

This clumsy cover-up then produced the incredible result of an Ahmadinejad landlside in Tabriz and Isfahan and Tehran.

The reason for which Rezaie and Karoubi had to be assigned such implausibly low totals was to make sure Ahmadinejad got over 51% of the vote and thus avoid a run-off between him and Mousavi next Friday, which would have given the Mousavi camp a chance to attempt to rally the public and forestall further tampering with the election.

This scenario accounts for all known anomalies and is consistent with what we know of the major players.

More in my column, just out, in "Ahmadinejad reelected under cloud of fraud," where I argue that the outcome of the presidential elections does not and should not affect Obama's policies toward that country-- they are the right policies and should be followed through on regardless.

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.

What I've said is full of speculation and informed guesses. I'd be glad to be proved wrong on several of these points. Maybe I will be.

PS: Here's the data:

So here is what Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli said Saturday about the outcome of the Iranian presidential elections:

"Of 39,165,191 votes counted (85 percent), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the election with 24,527,516 (62.63 percent)."

He announced that Mir-Hossein Mousavi came in second with 13,216,411 votes (33.75 percent).

Mohsen Rezaei got 678,240 votes (1.73 percent)

Mehdi Karroubi with 333,635 votes (0.85 percent).

He put the void ballots at 409,389 (1.04 percent).

From a Sunday, June 14, 2009 entry on Informed Comment a blog run by Juan Cole

Class v. Culture Wars in Iranian Elections: Rejecting Charges of a North Tehran Fallacy

Some comentators have suggested that the reason Western reporters were shocked when Ahmadinejad won was that they are based in opulent North Tehran, whereas the farmers and workers of Iran, the majority, are enthusiastic for Ahmadinejad. That is, we fell victim once again to upper middle class reporting and expectations in a working class country of the global south.

While such dynamics may have existed, this analysis is flawed in the case of Iran because it pays too much attention to class and material factors and not enough to Iranian culture wars. We have already seen, in 1997 and 2001, that Iranian women and youth swung behind an obscure former minister of culture named Mohammad Khatami and his 2nd of Khordad movement, capturing not only the presidency but also, in 2000, parliament.

Khatami received 70 percent of the vote in 1997. He then got 78% of the vote in 2001, despite a crowded field. In 2000, his reform movement captured 65% of the seats in parliament. He is a nice man, but you couldn't exactly categorize him as a union man or a special hit with farmers.

The evidence is that in the past little over a decade, Iran's voters had become especially interested in expanding personal liberties, in expanding women's rights, and in a wider field of legitimate expression for culture (not just high culture but even just things like Iranian rock music). The extreme puritanism of the hardliners grated on people.

The problem for the reformers of the late 1990s and early 2000s was that they did not actually control much, despite holding elected office. Important government policy and regulation was in the hands of the unelected, clerical side of the government. The hard line clerics just shut down reformist newspapers, struck down reformist legislation, and blocked social and economic reform. The Bush administration was determined to hang Khatami out to dry, ensuring that the reformers could never bring home any tangible success in foreign policy or foreign investment. Thus, in the 2004 parliamentary elections, literally thousands of reformers were simply struck off the ballot and not allowed to run. This application of a hard line litmus test in deciding who could run for office produced a hard line parliament, naturally enough.

But in 2000, it was clear that the hard liners only had about 20% of the electorate on their side.

By 2005, the hard liners had rolled back all the reforms and the reform camp was sullen and defeated. They did not come out in large numbers for the reformist candidate, Karoubi, who only got 17 percent of the vote. They nevertheless were able to force a run-off between hard line populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatic conservative billionaire. Ahmadinejad won.

But Ahmadinejad's 2005 victory was made possible by the widespread boycott of the vote or just disillusionment in the reformist camp, meaning that fewer youth and women bothered to come out.

So to believe that the 20% hard line support of 2001 has become 63% in 2009, we would have to posit that Iran is less urban, less literate and less interested in cultural issues today than 8 years ago. We would have to posit that the reformist camp once again boycotted the election and stayed home in droves.

No, this is not a north Tehran/ south Tehran issue. Khatami won by big margins despite being favored by north Tehran.

So observers who want to lay a guilt trip on us about falling for Mousavi's smooth upper middle class schtick are simply ignoring the last 12 years of Iranian history. It was about culture wars, not class. It is simply not true that the typical Iranian voter votes conservative and religious when he or she gets the chance. In fact, Mousavi is substantially more conservative than the typical winning politician in 2000. Given the enormous turnout of some 80 percent, and given the growth of Iran's urban sector, the spread of literacy, and the obvious yearning for ways around the puritanism of the hard liners, Mousavi should have won in the ongoing culture war.

And just because Ahmadinejad poses as a champion of the little people does not mean that his policies are actually good for workers or farmers or for working class women (they are not, and many people in that social class know that they are not).

So let that be an end to the guilt trip. The Second of Khordad Movement was a winning coalition for the better part of a decade. Its supporters are 8 years older than the last time they won, but it was a young movement. Did they all do a 180 and defect from Khatami to Ahmadinejad? Unlikely. The Iranian women who voted in droves for Khatami haven't gone anywhere, and they did not very likely much care for Ahmadinejad's stances on women's issues:

'In a BBC News interview, Mahbube Abbasqolizade, a member of the Iranian Womens Centre NGO, said, Mr. Ahmadinejads policies are that women should return to their homes and that their priority should be the family.

* Ahmadinejad changed the name of the government organization the Centre for Womens Participation to the Centre for Women and Family Affairs.

* Ahmadinejad proposed a new law that would reintroduce a mans right to divorce his wife without informing her. In addition, men would no longer be required to pay alimony. In response, womens groups have initiated the Million Signatures campaign against these measures.

* Ahmadinejads administration opposes the ratification of the UN protocol called CEDAW, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. This doctrine is essentially an international womens Bill of Rights.

* Ahmadinejad implemented the Social Safety program, which monitors womens clothing, requires the permission from a father or husband for a woman to attend school, and applies quotas limiting the number of women allowed to attend universities.'

Mir Hosain Mousavi was a plausible candidate for the reformists. They were electing people like him with 70 and 80 percent margins just a few years ago. We have not been had by the business families of north Tehran. We've much more likely been had by a hard line constituency of at most 20% of the country, who claim to be the only true heirs of the Iranian revolution, and who control which ballots see the light of day.

§Post-Election Demonstrations, Violence, Arrests
by juan cole (reposted)
From a Sunday, June 14, 2009 entry on Informed Comment a blog run by Juan Cole

Post-Election Demonstrations, Violence, Arrests is reporting that the streets in Iran's capital, Tehran, were almost deserted Sunday morning. Since it is a weekday in Iran, there should have been heavy traffic, but many people appear to have stayed home from work. Reports from students in Tehran say that the universities and polytechnic institutes have been closed for the next few days. This step was obviously taken to prevent students from gathering and demonstrating on campus. Many shopkeepers have closed up shop.

Mir-Hosain Mousavi's protest letter is here.

On Saturday, thousands of pro-Mousavi protesters staged sit-down strikes, started fires in metal trash bins, and confronted police and Islamic Republic of Iran paramilitary forces, pelting them with stones. Riot control police were sent in on motorcycles, in heavy gear. Toward midnight Saturday, tear gas canisters were being lobbed at the thinning ranks of protesters, with at least one hit in the head and wounded by a canister. Observers in Iran said that Facebook was taken off line and that even cell phone service was interrupted. (The latter two techniques are further circumstantial evidence that the election was rigged, since the regime seems to fear it has something to fear from a free and open inquiry and from communication among voters.)

The demonstrations did not only take place in Tehran, as some observers have charged, but were also staged in parts of other cities (I've seen Tabriz and Rasht cited).

Iranian authorities have taken into custody at least four of the leaders of the Islamic Iran Participation Front Party, which supported Mir-Hosain Mousavi in Friday's presidential election. The IIPFP was a leading party within the reformist Second of Khordad Movement of former president Mohammad Khatami.

Russia Today has video coverage of the election results and the demonstrations:

The wife of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is said to have called for protests, according to Javan as translated by the USG Open Source Center:

' Iran: Rafsanjani's Wife Calls for Street Protests if Cheating Occurs in Election
unattributed article: "It seems;" Subheaded 'If Musavi does not become president, people should protest in the streets!'
Saturday, June 13,
Document Type: OSC Translated Text

While four days ago, Hashemi-Rafsanjani had indirectly threatened street riots in a letter to the Supreme Leader, after having cast her vote in a ballot box in Jamaran's Hoseynieh, Rafsanjani's wife claimed that if there is no cheating, Musavi will become president and if there is cheating, people should pour into the streets in protest.

Having cast her vote, Effat Mar'ashi addressed the people and the reporters and said: You have been witness that I wrote Mir Hoseyn Musavi in my vote and I hope that no cheating takes place, because if such a thing happens, I will not forgive them on Serat Bridge (according to Muslim belief, the bridge that people have to cross to enter heaven).

She then launched an attack against Dr Ahmadinejhad and said: I hope Ahmadinejhad and his Khavarej friends (according to the Koran, a group of traitors who betrayed Imam Ali in the Saffeyn war) receive their response from the people. Hashemi-Rafsanjani's wife referred to the president's statements during the debate with Musavi and said: Why does he talk such rubbish and accuse my children of stealing? Mar'ashi claimed that if there is no cheating, Musavi will become president, but we hope to God that they do not cheat, because if they do people will pour into the streets and will protest.

(Description of Source: Tehran Javan in Persian Tehran Javan in Persian -- strongly conservative Tehran daily believed to be close to the Revolution Guards Corps)'

This would be like Barbara Bush calling for street demonstrations in Washington, DC.

Iran's repressive forces are powerful and they may get away with staging a stolen election for now. But the regime's credibility has definitely taken a hit.

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