[News] What Actually Happened in the Iranian Presidential Election?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Jun 22 11:37:04 EDT 2009


http://www.counterpunch.org/amin06222009.html

June 22, 2009


A Hard Look at the Numbers

What Actually Happened in the Iranian Presidential Election?

By ESAM AL-AMIN

Since the June 12 Iranian presidential elections, 
Iran "experts” have mushroomed like bacteria in a 
Petri dish. So here is a quiz for all those 
instant experts. Which major country has elected 
more presidents than any in the world since 1980? 
Further, which nation is the only one that held 
ten presidential elections within thirty years of its revolution?

The answer to both questions, of course, is Iran. 
Since 1980, it has elected six presidents, while 
the U.S. is a close second with five, and France 
at three. In addition, the U.S. held four 
presidential elections within three decades of its revolution to Iran’s ten.

The Iranian elections have unified the left and 
the right in the West and unleashed harsh 
criticisms and attacks from the “outraged” 
politicians to the “indignant” mainstream media. 
Even the blogosphere has joined this battle with 
near uniformity, on the side of Iran’s 
opposition, which is quite rare in cyberspace.

Much of the allegations of election fraud have 
been just that: unsubstantiated accusations. No 
one has yet been able to provide a solid shred of 
evidence of wide scale fraud that would have 
garnered eleven million votes for one candidate over his opponent.

So let’s analyze much of the evidence that is available to date.

More than thirty pre-election polls were 
conducted in Iran since President Mahmoud 
Ahmadinejad and his main opponent, former Prime 
Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, announced their 
candidacies in early March 2009.  The polls 
varied widely between the two opponents, but if 
one were to average their results, Ahmadinejad 
would still come out on top. However, some of the 
organizations sponsoring these polls, such as 
Iranian Labor News Agency and Tabnak, admit 
openly that they have been allies of Mousavi, the 
opposition, or the so-called reform movement. 
Their numbers were clearly tilted towards Mousavi 
and gave him an unrealistic advantage of over 30 
per cent in some polls. If such biased polls were 
excluded, Ahmadinejad’s average over Mousavi would widen to about 21 points.

On the other hand, there was only one poll 
carried out by a western news organization. It 
was jointly commissioned by the BBC and ABC News, 
and conducted by an independent entity called the 
Center for Public Opinion (CPO) of the New 
America Foundation. The CPO has a reputation of 
conducting accurate opinion polls, not only in 
Iran, but across the Muslim world since 2005. The 
poll, conducted a few weeks before the elections, 
predicted an 89 percent turnout rate. Further, it 
showed that Ahmadinejad had a nationwide advantage of two to one over Mousavi.

How did this survey compare to the actual 
results? And what are the possibilities of wide scale election fraud?

According to official results, there were 46.2 
million registered voters in Iran. The turnout 
was massive, as predicted by the CPO. Almost 39.2 
million Iranians participated in the elections 
for a turn out rate of 85 percent, in which about 
38.8 million ballots were deemed valid (about 
400,000 ballots were left blank). Officially, 
President Ahmadinejad received 24.5 million votes 
to Mousavi’s 13.2 million votes, or 62.6 per cent 
to 33.8 per cent of the total votes, 
respectively. In fact, this result mirrored the 
2005 elections when Ahmadinejad received 61.7 per 
cent to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani’s 
35.9 per cent in the runoff elections. Two other 
minor candidates, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen 
Rezaee, received the rest of the votes in this election.

Shortly after the official results were announced 
Mousavi’s supporters and Western political 
pundits cried foul and accused the government of 
election fraud. The accusations centered around 
four themes. First, although voting had been 
extended several hours due to the heavy turnout, 
it was alleged that the elections were called too 
quickly from the time the polls were closed, with 
more than 39 million ballots to count.

Second, these critics insinuated that election 
monitors were biased or that, in some instances, 
the opposition did not have its own monitors 
present during the count. Third, they pointed out 
that it was absurd to think that Mousavi, who 
descended from the Azerbaijan region in northwest 
Iran, was defeated handily in his own hometown. 
Fourth, the Mousavi camp charged that in some 
polling stations, ballots ran out and people were turned away without voting.

The next day, Mosuavi and the two other defeated 
candidates lodged 646 complaints to the Guardian 
Council, the entity charged with overseeing the 
integrity of the elections. The Council promised 
to conduct full investigations of all the 
complaints. By the following morning, a copy of a 
letter by a low-level employee in the Interior 
Ministry sent to Supreme Guide Ali Khamanei, was 
widely circulating around the world. (Western 
politicians and media outlets like to call him 
“Supreme Leader” but no such title exists in Iran.)

The letter stated that Mousavi had won the 
elections, and that Ahmadinejad had actually come 
in third. It also promised that the elections 
were being fixed in favor of Ahmadinejad per 
Khamanei’s orders. It is safe to assume that the 
letter was a forgery since an unidentified 
low-level employee would not be the one 
addressing Ayatollah Khamanaei. Robert Fisk of 
The Independent reached the same conclusion by 
casting grave doubts that Ahmadinejad would score 
third – garnering less than 6 million votes in 
such an important election- as alleged in the forged letter.

There were a total of 45,713 ballot boxes that 
were set up in cities, towns and villages across 
Iran. With 39.2 million ballots cast, there were 
less than 860 ballots per box. Unlike other 
countries where voters can cast their ballots on 
several candidates and issues in a single 
election, Iranian voters had only one choice to 
consider: their presidential candidate. Why would 
it take more than an hour or two to count 860 
ballots per poll?  After the count, the results 
were then reported electronically to the Ministry of the Interior in Tehran.

Since 1980, Iran has suffered an eight-year 
deadly war with Iraq, a punishing boycott and 
embargo, and a campaign of assassination of 
dozens of its lawmakers, an elected president and 
a prime minister from the group Mujahideen Khalq 
Organization. (MKO is a deadly domestic violent 
organization, with headquarters in France, which 
seeks to topple the government by force.) Despite 
all these challenges, the Islamic Republic of 
Iran has never missed an election during its 
three decades. It has conducted over thirty 
elections nationwide. Indeed, a tradition of 
election orderliness has been established, much 
like election precincts in the U.S. or boroughs 
in the U.K. The elections in Iran are organized, 
monitored and counted by teachers and 
professionals including civil servants and retirees (again much like the U.S.)

There has not been a tradition of election fraud 
in Iran. Say what you will about the system of 
the Islamic Republic, but its elected legislators 
have impeached ministers and “borked” nominees of 
several Presidents, including Ahmadinejad. 
Rubberstamps, they are not. In fact, former 
President Mohammad Khatami, considered one of the 
leading reformists in Iran, was elected president 
by the people, when the interior ministry was run 
by archconservatives. He won with over 70 percent 
of the vote, not once, but twice.

When it comes to elections, the real problem in 
Iran is not fraud but candidates’ access to the 
ballots (a problem not unique to the country, 
just ask Ralph Nader or any other third party 
candidate in the U.S.) It is highly unlikely that 
there was a huge conspiracy involving tens of 
thousands of teachers, professionals and civil 
servants that somehow remained totally hidden and unexposed.

Moreover, while Ahmadinejad belongs to an active 
political party that has already won several 
elections since 2003, Mousavi is an independent 
candidate who emerged on the political scene just 
three months ago, after a 20-year hiatus. It was 
clear during the campaign that Ahmadinejad had a 
nationwide campaign operation. He made over sixty 
campaign trips throughout Iran in less than 
twelve weeks, while his opponent campaigned only 
in the major cities, and lacked a sophisticated campaign apparatus.

It is true that Mousavi has an Azeri background. 
But the CPO poll mentioned above, and published 
before the elections, noted that “its survey 
indicated that only 16 per cent of Azeri Iranians 
will vote for Mr. Mousavi. By contrast, 31 per 
cent of the Azeris claim they will vote for Mr. 
Ahmadinejad.” In the end, according to official 
results, the election in that region was much 
closer than the overall result. In fact, Mousavi 
won narrowly in the West Azerbaijan province but 
lost the region to Ahmadinejad by a 45 to 52 per 
cent margin (or 1.5 to 1.8 million votes).

However, the double standard applied by Western 
news agencies is striking. Richard Nixon trounced 
George McGovern in his native state of South 
Dakota in the 1972 elections. Had Al Gore won his 
home state of Tennessee in 2000, no one would 
have cared about a Florida recount, nor would 
there have been a Supreme Court case called Bush 
v. Gore. If Vice-Presidential candidate John 
Edwards had won the states he was born and raised 
in (South and North Carolina), President John 
Kerry would now be serving his second term. But 
somehow, in Western newsrooms Middle Eastern 
people choose their candidates not on merit, but on the basis of their “tribe.”

The fact that minor candidates such as Karroubi 
would garner fewer votes than expected, even in 
their home regions as critics charge, is not out 
of the ordinary. Many voters reach the conclusion 
that they do not want to waste their votes when 
the contest is perceived to be between two major 
candidates. Karroubi indeed received far fewer 
votes this time around than he did in 2005, 
including in his hometown. Likewise, Ross Perot 
lost his home state of Texas to Bob Dole of 
Kansas in 1996, while in 2004, Ralph Nader 
received one eighth of the votes he had four years earlier.

Some observers note that when the official 
results were being announced, the margin between 
the candidates held steady throughout the count. 
In fact, this is no mystery. Experts say that 
generally when 3-5 per cent of the votes from a 
given region are actually counted, there is a 95 
per cent confidence level that such result will 
hold firm. As for the charge that ballots ran out 
and some people were turned away, it is worth 
mentioning that voting hours were extended four 
times in order to allow as many people as 
possible the opportunity to vote. But even if all 
the people who did not vote, had actually voted 
for Mousavi (a virtual impossibility), that would 
be 6.93 million additional votes, much less than 
the 11 million vote difference between the top two candidates.

Ahmadinejad is certainly not a sympathetic 
figure. He is an ideologue, provocative, and 
sometimes behaving imprudently. But to 
characterize the struggle in Iran as a battle 
between democratic forces and a “dictator,” is to 
exhibit total ignorance of Iran’s internal 
dynamics, or to deliberately distort them. There 
is no doubt that there is a significant segment 
of Iranian society, concentrated around major 
metropolitan areas, and comprising many young 
people, that passionately yearns for social 
freedoms. They are understandably angry because 
their candidate came up short. But it would be a 
huge mistake to read this domestic disagreement 
as an “uprising” against the Islamic Republic, or 
as a call to embark on a foreign policy that 
would accommodate the West at the expense of 
Iran’s nuclear program or its vital interests.

Nations display respect to other nations only 
when they respect their sovereignty. If any 
nation, for instance, were to dictate the United 
States’ economic, foreign or social policies, 
Americans would be indignant. When France, under 
President Chirac opposed the American adventure 
in Iraq in 2003, some U.S. Congressmen renamed a 
favorite fast food from French Fries to “Freedom 
Fries.” They made it known that the French were unwelcome in the U.S.

The U.S. has a legacy of interference in Iran’s 
internal affairs, notably when it toppled the 
democratically elected government of Prime 
Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in 1953. This act, of 
which most Americans are unaware, is ingrained in 
every Iranian from childhood. It is the main 
cause of much of their perpetual anger at the 
U.S. It took 56 years for an American president 
to acknowledge this illegal act, when Obama did so earlier this month in Cairo.

Therefore, it would be a colossal mistake to 
interfere in Iran’s internal affairs yet again. 
President Obama is wise to leave this matter to 
be resolved by the Iranians themselves. Political 
expediency by the Republicans or pro-Israel 
Democrats will be extremely dangerous and will 
yield serious repercussions. Such reckless 
conduct by many in the political class and the 
media appears to be a blatant attempt to demonize 
Iran and its current leadership, in order to 
justify any future military attack by Israel if 
Iran does not give up its nuclear ambition.

President Obama’s declarations in Cairo are now 
being aptly recalled. Regarding Iran, he said, “I 
recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of 
mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, 
rectitude, and resolve.  There will be many 
issues to discuss between our two countries, and 
we are willing to move forward without 
preconditions on the basis of mutual respect.”

But the first sign of respect is to let the 
Iranians sort out their differences without any overt –or covert –interference.

Esam Al-Amin can be reached at 
<http://us.mc365.mail.yahoo.com/mc/compose?to=alamin1919@gmail.com>alamin1919 at gmail.com




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