[TEHRAN BUREAU] Much has been said about the outcome of the Iranian presidential election, which took place last Friday. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's supporters claim that the vote counting was honest. The reformists' supporters hotly dispute that. Extra ammunition has been provided to those who believe that the President was the true victor by the results of a poll taken by the Center for Public Opinion and the New American Foundation between from May 11-20, 2009, asking 1001 Iranians living in Iran for whom they would vote.
According to the poll, 34% of the respondents said that they would vote for the President, while 14% said that they would vote for the main reformist candidate, Mir Hossein Mousavi, a former prime minister.
So, who is right?
There is much evidence to support those who believe that the vote counting was fraudulent.
Let us begin with the American poll. According to the poll, 77% of the respondents said that they want the Supreme Leader to be elected directly by the people; 74% favor full inspections of Iran's nuclear facilities to ensure that it will not be used for non-peaceful purposes; 77% favor normal trade with, and full recognition by the United States; 68% favor Iran's government to help the U.S. in Iraq, and 52% favor recognition of Israel in return for U.S. recognition and open trade. Who espouses such policies? The reformists, not President Ahmadinejad.
90% of the respondents thought that the economy should be the top priority of their government. How has Mr. Ahmadinejad's economic performance been (aside from distributing cash among the poor in the last month of the campaign)? Dismal! Unemployment, inflation, and the costs of housing, fuel, and food have all skyrocketed since 2005.
Then, why is it that, while agreeing overwhelmingly with what the reformists advocate, a plurality of the respondents said that they would vote for the President? The answer lies in the Iranian culture. Iranians are notoriously secretive about their political opinions when they talk to strangers, especially when they are called over the phone. In a country where social and political repression has increased dramatically under Mr. Ahmadinejad, the Iranian people are terrified by the possible consequences of honest answers, especially with respect to their preferred candidate.
Moreover, the poll was finished on May 20, and that was just before the campaigns were taking off. There was a dramatic increase in the support for Mr. Mousavi (as well as Mr. Mahdi Karroubi, the 2nd reformist candidate) only in the last three weeks of the election.
Let us now take a look at the historical trends. In the first round of the 2005 election there were four candidates who belonged to the reformist/pragmatic camp, namely, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Messrs Karroubi, Mostafa Moeen and Mohsen Mehralizadeh. Together, they collected 57% of the votes cast. Internal polls by the reformists in the last days of the election had indicated that Mr. Mousavi would receive about the same percentage of the vote, plus another 17% for Mr. Karroubi, but the two supposedly received only 35% of the votes. This is against the historical trends in Iran. Let me explain.
In 2005 about 63% of the eligible voters cast their votes, which is typical turnout for Iranian presidential elections. In last Friday's elections, 82% of the eligible voters voted. Based on the historical trends we know that dramatic increases in voting participation benefit the reformists almost exclusively, because a surge in participation is usually due to the fact that liberal-minded Iranians who are not happy with the political system and, therefore, do not always vote, have decided to participate.
For example, in 1997, 80% of the voters cast their votes and elected Mohammad Khatami in a landslide; and in 2000 their votes reflected a reformist-dominated 6th Majles (parliament).
Another good piece of evidence for this claim is that, all the political groups that had boycotted the 2005 elections, but had declared that they would vote this time — that is, most, if not all, of the additional 19% — supported one of the two reformist candidates.
Let us take up another fact regarding elections trends in Iran. 45% of Iran's population is made of ethnic minorities. For example, the Azeri population makes up about 24% of the population. Ethnic minorities always vote overwhelmingly for one of their own, if a viable candidate of their own is running in the election. An example is the votes that Mr. Mehralizadeh, an Azeri, received in 2005 which were almost exclusively by the Azeri population. The votes that Dr. Ali Larijani, a conservative and the present Speaker of the Majles, received in the 2005 presidential election were mostly from the Mazandaran province, his birth place. Mr. Mousavi is an Azeri, and was greeted by huge rallies everywhere he went in the Azerbaijan province and spoke Turkish (the language of the Azeri people). Why should this election be any different? Was Mr. Mousavi unable to defeat Mr. Ahmadinejad even in his home turf?
Likewise, Mr. Karroubi is a Lur, and he received the overwhelming votes of the Luri people, as well as a significant fraction of the Kurdish vote in the 2005 election (the Kurds constitute 7% of the population). At that time, he received a little over 17% of the votes. Many of the groups that had boycotted the 2005 election had declared their support for Mr. Karroubi. So, what is the explanation for the dramatic drop in his vote to only about 280,000 votes this time?
It is often said that Mr. Ahmadinejad is popular in the poor rural areas of Iran. Assuming that it is true, only 35% of the population lives in such areas. So, even if Mr. Ahmadinejad were able to attract an overwhelming 80% of these votes, that could still account for no more 1/3 of the votes that he supposedly received. In addition, even in smaller towns Messrs Mousavi was always greeted by huge crowds.
The day after the election some Iranian university students plotted the total numbers of votes that Messrs Ahmadinejad and Mousavi had supposedly received at every stage of the vote counting against each other. The graph charted an almost perfect straight line, implying that at every stage of vote counting, the President's votes were always about twice that of Mr. Mousavi's. In an article on Tehranbureau.com I pointed out that this was impossible to maintain at all stages of counting, due to all the social, cultural, and political factors that I point to above; I stand by it. The people who made up those numbers basically used a Ponzi scheme for vote counting, since they always maintained a big and constant "return" for those who voted for Mr. Ahmadinejad!
There are other indications that the election was rigged. How did the Fars News Agency, whose budget is provided by Iran's Revolutionary Guards, know only one hour after voting had ended that Mr. Ahmadinejad had been re-elected by 64% of the votes (which is also the final official number)? How did Mr. Ahmadinejad himself know that, when he also announced the same almost at the same time?
Mr. Abolfazl Fateh, an aid to Mr. Mousavi, has said that Mr. Mousavi wrote a letter to the Supreme Leader to complain about all the irregularities that had been reported to his campaign headquarters. Mr. Fateh took the letter to the Supreme Leader's office, and arrived there just one hour after the voting had ended. But, he has said that the people working in that office gave him the distinct impression that the "game" was over and Mr. Ahmadinejad had been re-elected. How did they know that?
The famed Iranian movie director, Mr. Mohsen Makhmalbaf, who has been a spokesman for Mr. Mousavi, also stated in an interview that in the early hours after the election, the Interior Ministry that supervises the elections had called Mr. Mousavi's campaign to inform them that they would be declared the victor and should therefor prepare their victory statement without boasting too much, in order not to upset Mr. Ahmadinejad's supporters. But, then, Mr. Mousavi's campaign center was ransacked by the security agents, and suddenly everyhting changed.
Based on overwhelming evidence, there is but one conclusion: The election was rigged, and the official results are bogus.