Vote Rigging Alleged in Iranian Vote

Those who spoke glowingly of "Iranian democracy" in the lead up to the elections appear to have some egg on their face today.

The official story being put out by the Interior Ministry in Iran is that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad received around 63% of the vote while his rival, the "reformer," Mir Hossein Mousavi, received 34%.

The problem is that not only are international observers scoffing at the results but the Iranian people are also questioning the vote -- in particular, Mr. Mousavi, who appears to have a pretty strong case that the vote was either rigged or some other shenanigans were perpetrated to swing the election to the incumbent.

Laura Rozen writing at the Foreign Policy Blog The Cable:

"I don't think anyone anticipated this level of fraudulence," Reuters cited the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Karim Sadjadpour. "This was a selection, not an election. At least authoritarian regimes like Syria and Egypt have no democratic pretenses. In retrospect it appears this entire campaign was a show: (Supreme Leader) Ayatollah (Ali) Khamenei wasn't ever going to let Ahmadinejad lose."

"I'm in disbelief that this could be the case," Reuters cited Trita Parsi. "It's one thing if Ahmadinejad had won the first round with 51 or 55 per cent. But this number ... just sounds tremendously strange in a way that doesn't add up. ... It is difficult to feel comfortable that this occurred without any cheating."

The scale of the suspected fraud was such that fears of a possible police crackdown on opposition leaders and their supporters have been heightened.

"If [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei comes and endorses the results prior, ... then a Mousavi protest will be more than a confrontation, but war," a Washington Iran hand says.

Rozen also reports that "Iran hands have used words like 'coup' to describe what they believe may be taking place."

A couple of things to consider: First, as we found out with our own election last November, people do not stand in line for hours to vote in order to return the status quo to power. Mousavi -- however imperfectly he represented "change" -- nevertheless was the clear choice of the young who have made it plain are itching for more freedom.

(Indeed, you do not get to run for president in Iran [candidates must pass muster with the regime controlled Guardian Council] unless you believe that Israel has no right to exist and that America is the Great Satan. Therefore, to refer to Mousavi as a "moderate" is so misleading as to be laughable. Relative to Ahmadinejad, he may in fact offer more "moderate" policy alternatives. But for any media outlet or blog that refers to him simply as a "moderate" is spouting nonsense.)

Secondly, there appeared to be some panic yesterday while the vote was going on. According to local observers,  the regime kept announcing that the polls would remain open an additional hour to accommodate the crush. They did this four times yesterday which might indicate an effort to stuff the ballot boxes with votes for the incumbent.

According to this Guardian report yesterday, the confidence of the challenger's supporters in victory was sky high:

6.35 p.m.:

As night fell on Tehran the heavens opened with a deliciously cooling

downpour after a very long hot day, writes Ian Black in his final blog posting of the day.

Amazingly, polling stations are still open and heaving, with voting extended for a fourth extra hour to accommodate what by all accounts is a massive voter turnout that could even break the 1997 record.

Friends in the Mousavi camp can hardly contain their excitement at what they think is the likelihood of imminent victory. But they say they are worried about a last-minute hitch: the meaning of a reported shortage of ballot papers in some places, for example, and ominous predictions that the regime may lash out if Ahmadinejad does lose.

A Revolutionary Guard warning about not tolerating a "velvet revolution" by the Iranian "greens" has been noted with some alarm. The blocking of SMS messages throughout the day was almost certainly designed to disrupt contact between Mousavi supporters.

"We are all very excited," said a North Tehran photographer, "but we fear that we may have to pay for our empowerment."