June 19, 2005


Iran Moderate Says Hard-Liners Rigged Election (MICHAEL SLACKMAN, 6/19/05, NY Times)

The race for the presidency in Iran was thrown into turmoil on Saturday when the third-place finisher accused conservative hard-liners of rigging the election and cutting him out of the runoff vote next week, which will be between a former president and the conservative mayor of Tehran.

The accusation of voting irregularities came from Mehdi Karroubi, a cleric and former speaker of Parliament known as a conciliator, who said he would continue to press his case publicly unless the country's supreme religious leader ordered an independent investigation.

It was a bold move in a country that does not generally tolerate such forms of public dissent, and it threw an element of confusion and uncertainty into the race just as the authorities were finalizing the election results, planning for the runoff and pointing to the outcome as a validation of this country's religion-based system of government.

The Interior Ministry issued final figures Saturday night, saying the former two-term president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, would face off against the hard-line mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in a runoff it said would probably be held next Friday. It was unclear what, if any, effect the accusations of fraud would have on the planned vote.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's strong showing came as a shock to the political establishment here. He had hovered at the back of the field of candidates in pre-election opinion surveys and his political base was said to be limited to the capital city. An element of the bizarre in the events on Saturday came as Mr. Ahmadinejad announced that he would be in the runoff hours before the ministry issued its own results.

W should have kept his powder dry for this moment, but still needs to call into question the legitimacy of the results.

Rafsanjani allies seek unity for Iran run-off vote (Paul Hughes, 6/19/05, Reuters)

Iranian reformists urged their dejected supporters to rally behind pragmatic cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to prevent his surprise hard-line challenger Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from winning a presidential run-off.

"We should use our full force to defend Rafsanjani. We should form an anti-fascist front," said Hamid Reza Jalalipour, a leader of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front. [...]

A senior Rafsanjani aide urged reformists, secularists and moderate conservatives to unite behind the former president to maintain a political balance against "militarist" tendencies.

"We all can hear the footsteps of fascism," Mohammad Atrianfar told Reuters. "If we create a united front for a national coalition, we will win the Friday election."

He echoed accusations from Moin's camp that Ahmadinejad had used Basij religious militiamen to help get out the vote.

"Using a paramilitary organization to mobilize voters is a very dangerous move," Atrianfar said.

The daily Sharq, which Atrianfar controls, said voting for Rafsanjani was the only way to stop religious hard-liners from gaining a monopoly on Iran's ruling institutions.

"We can call him arrogant and criticize his preference for development over democracy," wrote columnist Mohammad Qouchani, but added: "Now we clearly see that Rafsanjani is the only choice left for preserving democracy in Iran."

Though Rafsanjani does not challenge clerical rule, he is seen as a counterweight to the hard-line anti-Western elite and has called for a "new chapter" in Iran-U.S. relations.

Iran’s reformists face an uneasy choice as conservatives dominate elections: A second ballot to decide Iran’s next president will have huge repercussions (Robert Tait, 6/19/05, Sunday Herald)
Casting their votes at a mosque in the Tehran district of Fereshteh, many young voters – universally accepted as the most important block in a country where around two-thirds of the 70 million population are under 30 – openly said they did not believe in the current system, in which the unelected Khamenei holds sway over the elected president on a range of crucial issues.

Many said they were voting to prevent Iran’s body politic being hijacked by hardliners who want to strengthen the Islamic nature of Iranian society.

“This is the last chance for change within the system,” says Sayed Mehdi Anwar, 23, a politics student at Tehran University, who voted for Rafsanjani in the hope that his status as a political insider would let him deliver change.

“The more the government opens up social freedoms, the more the youth will move away from Westernisation and accept their own culture.”

Those comments sit uneasily with the vaunted “Western” nature of the campaign, particularly given the pseudo-American techniques deployed by Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a hardline former police chief and Revolutionary Guard air force commander.

A cynic might ask how many Western elections are marred by a series of bombings in the days before polling. Over three days last week, nine bomb blasts were reported in Iran, killing 10 people.

The regime blamed at least four of the bombings, in the southern city of Ahwaz, on separatists in the mainly Arab Khuzestan province. However, responsibility for others, including two in Tehran, has not been established.

Reformists hinted darkly that some of the bombings may have been the work of hardline elements close to the regime hoping to influence the election result.

Less than 24 hours before polls opened, the outgoing reformist president, Mohammed Khatami, in revealingly candid remarks, warned that the election was in danger of being undermined.

“It seems there is an organised movement to hurt the glorious process of the elections,” he said.

Complaining of “disruption of gatherings, beatings, illegal pamphlets and spreading lies to ruin candidates’ reputations”, Khatami called on intelligence and interior ministries to step up their investigations into the bombings and bring the perpetrators to justice.

The remarks, rather than bolster confidence in Iranian democracy, appeared to lend weight to eve-of-poll criticism by US President George Bush that the elections were unfair.

The petering out of Khatami’s once crusading reformist administration has been a primary cause of voter disillusionment and cynicism in Iran. Once hailed as a heroic agent of change, the liberal president and his reform-minded followers lost their credibility as the conservative clerical establishment repeatedly blocked plans to give a more open, less religious face to Iranian society.

Nevertheless, Khatami is credited with advancing social freedoms and bringing about a sea-change in the mentality of the younger generations of Iranians.

“I must say that Khatami’s period was remarkable. He gave some freedom to people but those freedoms have not been allowed to continue,” says Mohammed Hassan Ahmadi, 19, a worker in an arts and crafts shop in Isfahan.

That thirst for freedom was probably behind the scenes that unfolded in the streets late last Wednesday evening.

Amid blaring horns, thousands of young people brought traffic to a standstill as they drove all over the affluent northern part of the city, their cars festooned with election stickers and paraphernalia supporting their favoured candidates. It was an affirmation not so much of the election but of a widespread desire for a party in defiance of the social restrictions that have marked the 26 years of Iran’s Islamic leadership.

The same spirit had asserted itself a week earlier when tens of thousands took to the streets to celebrate Iran’s qualification for next year’s football World Cup in Germany.

In both cases, the authorities – notoriously suspicious of unauthorised public gatherings – did not dare intervene.


Posted by Orrin Judd at June 19, 2005 8:57 AM

It's conceivable the results were real - some Iranian blogs were reporting informal exits polls showed surprising strength for Ahmedinejad; while a hard-liner, he was apparently well-regarded as an honest and competent adminstrator as mayor of Tehran.

Posted by: Mike Earl at June 19, 2005 3:38 PM

Yes, the results could certainly be real. The reformist calls to boycott the election were predictably counterproductive.

Posted by: oj at June 19, 2005 3:47 PM

He said 'exit polls', heh heh.

Posted by: Ken Blackwell at June 19, 2005 5:29 PM

Not that counterproductive. Iran's turnout was considerably higher than ours in 2000.

What in fact happened was what I have always said would happen: given a choice between religion and something else, the Iranians chose religion.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at June 19, 2005 10:58 PM

All the choices were religious. The Shi'ites are rather like us in that regard.

Posted by: oj at June 19, 2005 11:00 PM