By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Analyzing fraud claims in Iran

Did Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad steal his re-election victory? Hard to know without verifiable evidence. After all, it’s not difficult to believe that supporters of the opposition reform candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who are said to be educated, middle-class and urban, were outnumbered.

Two pieces I came across yesterday, though, offer some pretty compelling evidence that Ahmadinejad really did steal the election. The first, a Q&A from the Guardian, pulls together a number of different strands. Though not well-sourced, if they prove to be true, they add up to a powerful indictment:

  • Normally, it takes three days to finish counting the ballots in Iran. This time, Ahmadinejad’s victory was announced in two hours.
  • Mousavi supporters say the Iranian interior ministry told Mousavi not long after the polls had closed that it appeared he’d won by a substantial margin.
  • According to the official results, Mousavi even lost to Ahmadinejad among members of his own ethnic group, with Ahmadinejad capturing 57 percent of the vote in Mousavi’s home base.

The second piece, a blog post by Middle East expert Juan Cole, argues that an Ahmadinejad victory makes no logical sense given voting trends over the past decade. Though Ahmadinejad won election in 2005, Cole observes that reformist forces boycotted that election. This time, they turned out in droves.

Meanwhile, the Guardian is now reporting that the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has ordered an investigation into claims of voter fraud. If you assume that Ahmadinejad’s re-election was exactly what Khamenei wanted — and Khamenei’s statements yesterday certainly indicated that — then this looks like a crack in the facade.

Maybe Khamenei and the people around him fear that Ahmadinejad overreached, and that if they don’t do something, they’ll all be in danger. We can only hope.

Elsewhere, the Boston-based international news service GlobalPost is putting up regular dispatches in a special section called “The Ground Truth in Tehran.”

Global Voices Online, which rounds up blogger commentary, has a section on the Iranian elections, though nothing new since Saturday.

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  1. ed

    I wrote about this last week. The Supreme Leader of Iran is the one who makes all the rules in Iran. He makes all the decisions in the country or controls all the decisions.In order to even be on the ballot you must be approved by a 12 person panel. 6 of that panel is appointed by the Supreme Leader and the other 6 are appointed by a group that is hand picked by the Supreme Leader.Read more about it here and stick around for more good stuff-

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Ed: Not that I'm an expert on Iran, but I have followed the news semi-closely since the fall of the shah. I think it's an oversimplification to say that the supreme leader calls all the shots. More accurate to say that it's an authoritarian semi-democracy, semi-open, with competing power centers. It's a very complicated system — hardly Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

  3. Lafcadio Mullarkey

    Ed, the election shouldn't be used as the pretext for a cheap dig at "the media" ("fawning"). What you wrote on election day is already obsolete. The story is much bigger–it's about what has happened since then, and what is continuing to happen. Hundreds of thousands of people marched through central Tehran today for example, in what the NYT calls an "extraordinary show of defiance that was among the largest demonstrations in Iran since the 1979 revolution".If "Iran’s propaganda machine shows you exactly what it wants you to see", then presumably we wouldn't be seeing scenes like this, or be able to keep up via live blogging like this. And you misspelled Khamenei.

  4. Karl

    One quibble, I don't believe it takes three days to count the ballots. The announcement process normally takes three days. That said, your point is sound. It is unrealistic even with the most sophisticated electronic ballots to make an official announcement within hours. These are paper ballots. It's likely that the boxes weren't even opened much less counted when the government announced the results.

  5. Michael Pahre

    The election-day TV reports showed long lines at polling places in Iran, and stated that a lot of sites had to stay open 1-2 hours later in order to process all of the voters. (Reports that some places had to stay open for 4 extra hours appear to be for overseas polling stations.)All of the TV images I saw — although I admit that there is no way to verify if they are representative — showed people putting folded pieces of paper into boxes. That means that lots of ballots must be hand-counted, a tedious process.I heard U.S. TV reports early Friday night saying that Iranian authorities had already announced Ahmadinejad had won — which would correspond to a few hours after polls closed.And tonight's News Hour report (from ITN) stated that the claimed results even showed Mousavi losing in his home city, which is hard to believe if he only lost 62%-35% nationwide (according to the possibly-rigged results).It looks to me like Iranian election officials simply didn't open up the boxes and count the votes. The believability of the Ayatollah's investigation ought to hinge (at the very least) on whether or not independent sources will see them actually counting real ballots.I don't understand how they can be so incompetent in rigging the election. They could've announced results that looked close, given individual break-downs of the tally that make sense, etc… and then they could've at least made some claims that the count was valid… Incompetence in government now extends to vote-rigging, too!

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Michael: I agree that the body of evidence strongly suggests the election was stolen. But it also makes sense that Ahmadinejad would have a lot of support among uneducated, non-middle-class Iranians. So we shouldn't get carried away just yet.Americans have gotten very excited about so-called liberals and reformers who've turned out to be anything but … the guy in Georgia and the guy in Ukraine being two examples.(I am exercising my prerogative as an Ugly American in not looking up their names.)

  7. Michael Pahre

    Dan, I made no statement whether or not Ahmadinejad actually got the most votes. In fact, he might have!What I stated was simply that the announced results did not appear to be a count of the ballots cast.The assertion that the results were rigged does not hinge on whether or not Ahmadinejad would've won if the votes were actually counted.

  8. Dan Kennedy

    Michael: OK.I like what Robin Wright said on Diane Rehm's show yesterday: going into the election, it was clear that Ahmadinejad might win. But the pattern shows that he almost certainly didn't.

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