June 16, 2009
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) -- Iranian security forces beat protestors during weekend riots against the June 12 landslide re-election of Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Amid cries of fraud, critics of the election pointed out that Ahmadinejad's three rivals were overwhelmingly defeated in their own hometowns and that he apparently carried the day in all of Iran's 30 provinces and in every social and age category.
Voters thronged polling places on election day, international news services reported, with turnout estimated at 85 percent. Ahmadinejad's main challenger, the moderate reformer Mir Hossein Mousavi, engineered a campaign much like that of U.S. President Barack Obama, using tools like Facebook and text messaging to build a formidable movement among Iranian young people. In some places, voters stood in lines that were literally miles long and polling stations stayed open late to accommodate the crowds.
Yet, according to official results, Ahmadinejad won nearly 63 percent of the national vote, including 80 percent of the ballots in Mousavi's own hometown. News services reported that cell phone service and text messaging were disrupted in the run-up to the election and the Facebook site was blocked.
The election was tightly controlled, with no independent election commission, no secret balloting, no election observers and no way to verify the announced results, Iranian observer Amir Taheri said in a Wall Street Journal column June 15.
"Mr. Ahmadinejad was credited with more votes than anyone in Iran's history. If the results are to be believed, he won in all 30 provinces and among all social and age categories," Taheri wrote. "His three rivals, all dignitaries of the regime, were humiliated by losing even in their own hometowns. This was an unprecedented result even for the Islamic Republic, where elections have always been carefully scripted charades."
Time magazine said the results could be doubted because of the speed in which Ahmadinejad was pronounced the winner -- less than a day after the election. The Interior Ministry "is supposed to wait three days after voting before it certifies the result to allow time for disputes to be examined," Time said. Iran uses paper ballots.
"Gary Sick, a Columbia University professor and Iranian-affairs adviser for three U.S. Administrations, said that given the apparent record turnout, it would have been impossible to announce a definitive result so soon after the polls closed because Iran does not use voting machines," Time's Simon Robinson reported.
Over the weekend rioters attacked government-owned banks and vandalized public property in the central district of the capital, Tehran, international news services reported. Garbage dumpsters were set on fire and three buildings in north Tehran were burned completely.
Mousavi released a statement Sunday that he was under house arrest. He called for a peaceful demonstration Monday afternoon and asked the police to issue him a permit. Later, the protest was canceled after Mousavi said he was warned that police supervising the rally would be firing live ammunition. The Interior Ministry declared the requested march would be illegal.
In the West, the Obama administration and its European allies questioned the legitimacy of the election. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States hopes the outcome of the election reflects the "genuine will and desire" of the Iranian people. White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said the Obama administration is paying close attention to reports of alleged election irregularities.
One critic interpreted the election results as a coup against Iran's ruling hard-line clerics.
"Many in Tehran, including leading clerics, see the exercise as a putsch by the military-security organs that back Mr. Ahmadinejad," Taheri wrote. "The state-owned Fars News Agency declared Mr. Ahmadinejad to have won with a two-thirds majority even before the first official results had been tabulated by the Interior Ministry. … Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on all issues of national life, published a long statement hailing Mr. Ahmadinejad's 'historic victory' as 'a great celebration.' This was the first time since 1989, when he became supreme leader, that Mr. Khamenei commented on the results of a presidential election without waiting for the publication of official results. Some analysts in Tehran tell me that the military-security elite, now controlling the machinery of the Iranian state, persuaded Mr. Khamenei to make the unprecedented move."
Khamenei's statement was longer than usual and phrased in a manner very different from his usual statements, Taheri said. It also heaped an inordinate amount of praise on Ahmadinejad, leading observers to question whether Ahmadinejad himself wrote it and Khamenei was pressured to release it.
Middle East analyst Daniel Pipes, however, argued that the "Iranian selection" was Khamenei's re-appointing Ahmadinejad as president and said the fraudulent election result could be seen as a positive development.
"Ahmadinejad remains the lunatic face of Iran to the world, making it difficult to argue that the mullahs' regime is mellowing and its possession of nuclear weapons poses no threat," Pipes wrote in a June 15 column. "Ahmadinejad symbolizes the rejection of Barack Obama's overtures to Iran and, as such, his selection represents a slap in the face of the American president's pro-Islamist policies. Ahmadinejad remains in charge of the Iranian economy, which he is progressively wrecking, thereby reducing the country's capabilities to make mischief abroad. Ahmadinejad also determines the social mores, which he has tightened to the point of rebellion, assuring that his subject population grows more alienated from the Islamic Republic of Iran."