Friday, June 12, 2009

What's happening in the Iranian election?

After a campaign that generated a tremendous surge of excitement in its final weeks, voting hours in the presidential election were extended handle an unprecedentedly massive turnout. Now, as preliminary returns start to be announced, matters look a little confusing.

Official figures from the government electoral commission show Ahmadinejad is way ahead, with about 60% of the votes counted.
Kamran Daneshjoo, chairman of the interior ministry's electoral commission, said Mr Ahmadinejad had chalked up 66.18 per cent of Friday's vote with nearly two-thirds of ballot boxes counted.

With 61 per cent of total boxes counted, amounting to 21,170,263 votes, the incumbent leader received 14,011,664 votes.

That compared with 6,575,844, or 31.06 per cent, for Mr Mousavi, said Mr Daneshjoo.

Former Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezai remained a distant third, with 397,117 votes, or 1.87 per cent.

Ex-parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi remained in fourth place with 185,578, or 0.87 per cent.

Mr Daneshjoo did not indicate where the votes were from, saying only that the counting was from polling places across the country.

Asked why results were being tallied more quickly than expected, he said, "Many of the polling stations are connected online to the central server. They enter the data and it can be accessed quickly."

Separately, a former senior member of the National Security Council, Agha Mohammadi, said Ahmadinejad was likely to end the day with a narrow victory, avoiding the need for a runoff.
In fact, according to one (second-hand) report I've seen, the Iranian government news service has already declared Ahmadinejad the winner.

On the other hand, Ahmadinejad's strongest opponent, former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mossavi, has also declared victory, based on reports from his poll-watchers and others around the country.
Mr Mousavi also complained of a number of voting irregularities.

He said there had been a shortage of ballot papers and millions of people had been denied the right to vote.

His election monitors were not allowed enough access to polling stations, he added, saying he would deal seriously with any fraud.

"[We] are waiting for the counting of votes to officially end and explanations of these irregularities to be given," Mr Mousavi said.

"We expect to celebrate with people soon. We hope that authorities in charge do their work in this regard."
Ahmadinejad's surprise victory in the 2005 presidential election was clearly helped along by vote-rigging in some parts of the country (though that was not the only factor involved). So it is not surprising that the Mousavi and Karroubi campaigns started expressing anxiety about possible election fraud some time ago. If the official final results give Ahmadinejad a decisive first-round victory in this election, many Iranians will find that outcome implausible.

Now we can wait for the announcement of those final results.

--Jeff Weintraub