Was the Presidential election in Iran rigged?
On June 12, 2009 Iran held their tenth presidential election. The President of Iran is the highest publicly elected official, though the position is very different from the job done by the President of the United States and other democratic nations. For instance, in Iran the President doesn’t control foreign policy or the military.
Incumbent President Ahmadinejad was expected to face stiff competition, with many analysts in the west expecting his run as President to come to an end. When the results began to surface globally, and Ahmadinejad was declared the winner in a near landslide, cries of irregularities could be heard from just about every news source. In fact, Ahmadinejad’s first victory, in 2005, was met with similar claims. Was the Presidential election in Iran rigged? If so, what does this mean for Iran and for the rest of the world?
The problem with elections in Iran is that there is no monitoring of elections results in Iran. Normally, the ministry of the interior would control election monitoring, but that ministry has stated that the “Council of the Guardians of the Constitution”, a chamber of the 12 most important mullahs, should play that role. Since the Council of the Guardians also does not conduct any election monitoring, it simply isn’t being done.
Candidates for the Presidential elections in Iran are not permitted to be present at polling stations during voting or counting — this is seen as a measure against corruption. At the same time, many of the citizens of Iran, and thus many of the voters, are fully illiterate. To help them to vote, election officials “help” the voters fill in their ballots. If this raises a red flag for you, you are not alone — when election officials “assist” voters, the possibility for election rigging are obvious. Another big difference between Iranian elections and other democratic elections is that there are no “booths” to vote in — all voting is done in public. There couldn’t be a bigger obstacle against voter transparency.
President Ahmadinejad does have a large amount of publicly voiced support in Iran, and it is possible that he won the election, but the sheer size of his win is hotly contested. According to political analysts and experts in Iran, it is simply impossible that Ahmadinejad won the stated 63 percent of the vote. These results seem to have greatly exaggerated the amount of his public support.
Another fishy outcome, according to official results Ahmadinejad won every voting region and was the top candidate across all social classes and ages. As unlikely as this is, without monitoring there is no way for anyone to prove the election was rigged. The problem for Ahmadinejad’s opposition candidates (at least one of whom was quoted as saying the election was “a farce”) is that lack of monitoring. The world just doesn’t know if any or all of Iran’s ten Presidential elections were flawed. All ten elections have occured without monitoring, and the entirety of the election process is conducted by the government.
So what signs are there that the election results may be false? Besides the sheer size of Ahmadinejad’s apparent “victory”, it is interesting to note how early Ahmadinejad was declared the winner. A mere two hours after the closing of polls, Ahmadinejad was “the clear winner”. Why is this strange? Ballots in Iran are counted by hand. How could a solid enough majority of 40 million total votes have been counted in just 120 minutes? Another strange occurence — one of Ahmadinejad’s rivals, Mir Hossein Moussavi, is a member of the ethnic group known as “Azeri Turks”, who live in the Iranian province of Azerbaijan. Yet Ahmadinejad supposedly won that province by a wide margin. Members of the media are likening this loss to a loss by Barack Obama among African Americans in the American Presidential elections of 2008. It is simply unlikely.
Since the results were announced, there has been much anger and protesting on the streets of Iran. The question on a lot of people’s minds — will the violence and anger we are seeing turn into something we should worry about? The answer to this depends on what the opposition candidates do in the next few weeks. Former centrist President Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is a founding father of the Islamic republic, feels that the election was stolen from him and that the majority of public support is on his side. The same sentiment is expressed by at least one other major opposition candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. These two candidates have publicly announced their plans to hold more public protests. In other words, this unrest will not be over any time soon.
According to news reports surfacing today, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has apparently agreed to an investigation into the alleged rigging of the election. Experts on Iran believe that Khamenei won’t actually go through with the investigation unless he believes that his own power is at stake. Still others believe that the Ayatollah was the source of this rigging to begin with — after all, Ahmadinejad is effectively the candidate of the Supreme Leader.
What will be the impact of this election elsewhere in the world? The United States and Europe want to stop Iran from becoming a nuclear force, and Ahmadinejad’s reelection means that the recent aggressive behaviors of Iran towards the West will stay the same. The relationship between the US and Iran will continue to grow more strained. Ahmadinejadis an obstacle to that relationship, as he has been more than willing to trash talk America and push the envelope with regards to nuclear development. Between Ahmadinejad’s denial of the Holocaust and his stance on Israel — saying at one point that he’d like to wipe Israel off the map — there is no hope for a relationship between Iran and the US. But Ahmadinejad’s troubles are not just with outsiders — he has destroyed the Iranian economy, a country that has one of the highest inflation rates in the world as well as one of the highest rates of unemployment. How could a man who so willingly mismanages a country be elected by such a wide margin?