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."

Rozen points to a report that the Interior Ministry first told the Mousavi people that he was the winner, only to change that verdict a few hours later:

Ghaemi also said that Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a Paris-based Iranian film director, just did an interview with Radio Farda "in which he said he can say on behalf of Mousavi HQ, that the Interior Ministry had told them they are the winners, except they can't publicize it yet. And it was after that the events of last few hours unfolded. He was very certain in stating that."

"It sounds to me that the Mousavi camp was at first very cautious, and this is a very, very tense phase of this issue," Parsi told The Cable overnight Saturday. The opposition "wants to take this to Khamenei and test their assumptions and see to what extent is Khamenei going to stand by Ahmadinejad and to what extent they can they convince him not to do so.

Mr. Parsi heads up the National Iranian American Council here in the U.S. which has close ties to the government of Iran. For Parsi to question the results of the vote is a sign that it is very possible the election was not on the up-and-up.

The Weekly Standard got an email from Abbas Djavadi, with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Prague who has some additional news regarding the regime's response to the election:

Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a prominent film producer supporting Mousavi, who stayed in his favored candidate's headquarters, told Radio Farda that they were called by the Election Commission well before the first results were announced. "Don't announce Mr. Mousavi's victory yet," they were told by authorities. "We will gradually prepare the public and then you can proceed."

Apparently, though, a well-prepared plan was at the works, but in a completely different direction. Isa Saharkhiz, journalist from Tehran, told Radio Farda that while the whole SMS network of the country was taken down and critical websites were blocked and newspapers closed, they disabled communication among supporters of opposition candidates and everybody started to fear that they are preparing to gradually inject the surprise "shocking news" during the night until they announce it early morning. The later into the morning, the stronger -- and thus more unbelievable -- Ahmadinejad started to consolidate his figures.

Unknown and partly masked mobs, meanwhile, encircled the headquarters of the two opposition candidates Mousavi and Karroubi and attacked opposition supporters with sticks and gas spray, forcing them to flee.

Rozen's excellent report, coupled with the skepticism of someone like Parsi as well as news from Iran about crackdowns, bullying the opposition, and a cutoff of communications leads one to the inescapable conclusion that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has engineered a fraud on the Iranian people by fixing the vote to reflect an Ahmadinejad landslide.

It is possible the incumbent actually received a plurality of less than 50% which would have forced a run-off with Mr. Mousavi and the vote fraud was engineered simply to give Ahmadinejad a majority. But whether or not the president won an outright victory is beside the point; the news from Iran almost certainly points to massive fraud undertaken to give President Ahmadinejad a second term.