Friday, June 12, 2009

Both Sides Claim Victory in Presidential Election in Iran (NYTimes)

As a follow-up to my previous post, here is the New York Times report on the Iranian election (as of 10:30 p.m. Friday). I assume this article will continue to be updated until publication. But the basic outlines of the story are starting to look clear. The official vote-count gives Ahmadinejad a decisive first-round victory. The opposition is already calling foul. I suspect the fat will really be in the fire tomorrow.

Some highlights below.

--Jeff Weintraub
TEHRAN — In a surprising turnabout, Iran’s state-run news agency said Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won Iran’s presidential election in a landslide just two hours after the polls closed Friday night. But his main rival, Mir Hussein Moussavi, announced defiantly that he had won and charged that there had been voting “irregularities.”

“I am the absolute winner of the election by a very large margin,” Mr. Moussavi said during a news conference with reporters just after 11 p.m. Friday, adding: “It is our duty to defend people’s votes. There is no turning back.”

An hour later, the state news agency reported that Mr. Ahmadinejad, the hard-line incumbent, had won the election with 69 percent and that Mr. Moussavi had 28 percent. As the election commission announced new totals throughout the night, the numbers changed slightly, but the wide lead by Mr. Ahmedinejad did not.

The election commission is part of the Interior Ministry, which Mr. Ahmedinejad controls. [....]

The conflicting claims, coming after an extraordinary campaign that saw vast street demonstrations and vitriolic televised debates, seemed to undermine the public legitimacy of the vote and to threaten unrest. In recent days, Mr. Moussavi’s supporters were predicting a wide victory, citing voter surveys.

Some analysts warned that Mr. Moussavi’s supporters might take to the streets to protest on Saturday, despite a firm warning against any demonstrations by the deputy commander of the Iranian national police, Ahmadreza Radan. Early on Saturday morning the Tehran police began a “maneuver” to maintain security, the news agency said.

The emotional campaign was widely seen as a referendum on Mr. Ahmedinejad’s divisive policies. It pitted Mr. Moussavi, a former prime minister who has pledged to move Iran away from confrontation with the West, combat economic stagnation and expand women’s rights, against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s economic populism, social conservatism, and hard-line foreign policy.

Many women, young people, intellectuals and members of the moderate clerical establishment [now that's a phrase that needs some rewriting--JW] backed Mr. Moussavi. Mr. Ahmedinejad drew passionate support from poor rural Iranians as well as conservatives.

At his news conference, Mr. Moussavi cited irregularities that included a shortage of ballots. He accused the government of shutting down Web sites, newspapers and text messaging services throughout the country, crippling the opposition’s ability to communicate during the voting.

Fraud has been a prominent concern for Mr. Moussavi’s campaign, with many of his allies warning that Mr. Ahmadinejad could use the levers of state — the military, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Basij militia — to cajole or intimidate voters, or even engage in outright fraud. In 2005, Mehdi Karroubi, who is also a candidate in this election, accused the Basij of rigging the vote in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s favor. [....]

[Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei met on Friday with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a cleric, former president and backer of Mr. Moussavi’s who had warned the supreme leader in an unusual open letter on Tuesday about the possibility of election fraud, according to a political analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the gravity of the situation. [....]
[JW: Rafsanjani, a central figure in the clerico-kleptocratic 'establishment' wing of the political elite, was one of the two remaining presidential candidates in the second round of voting in 2005, after the hard-liners had managed to disqualify or otherwise eliminate all the reformist and semi-reformist candidates. He clearly thought the election was fixed for him, and was infuriated when it turned out it was actually fixed for Ahmadinejad, representing a more radical, purist, and ideologically fundamentalist faction of the "revolutionary" elites. To add to his fury, in one of the televised pre-election debates Ahmadinejad accused Rafsanjani of corruption--a more than plausible charge, frankly. In fact, Ahmadinejad created something of a scandal by claiming that, in the entire history of the Islamic Republic, his own administration was the first that had not been corrupt. Part of the story of this election is that it has revealed, and probably reinforced, significant splits inside the core of the regime.]
Amid the confusion overnight, a reformist Web site called Fararu said Mr. Moussavi was talking with the two other candidates, Mr. Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, to discuss the situation. Mr. Karroubi is a reformist cleric and Mr. Rezai is a conservative and the former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards. [....]

Polls were originally due to close at 6 p.m., but voting was extended by four hours.

The strong showing appeared to be driven in part by a broad movement against Mr. Ahmadinejad that has spurred vast opposition rallies in Iran’s major cities over the past few weeks. Many reform-oriented voters stayed away from the polls in 2005, and now say they are determined not to repeat the mistake. [....]

Ayatollah Khamenei’s position on the presidential elections has been a matter of intense speculation. He has not endorsed anyone, but offered a description of the ideal candidate that sounded very much like Mr. Ahmadinejad.

A number of voters seemed anxious about the possibility of vote-tampering.

“I put one name in, but maybe it will change when it comes out of the box,” said Adel Shoghi, 29, who works as a clerk at a car manufacturing company and voted at a mosque in southern Tehran.

Like some other supporters of Mr. Moussavi, Mr. Shoghi seemed uneasy about making his position too explicit in public. But he said he favored Mr. Moussavi because Iran needed more civic freedoms and because Mr. Ahmadinejad worsened Iran’s pariah status internationally, making life hard for Iranians who travel.

His brother Mansoor, 27, said he had just voted for Mr. Ahmadinejad.

“He is more with the people, and he has a plain way of living,” he said, echoing comments made by many of his supporters. [....]