x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Iran's election result disputed

Although President Ahmadinejad's opponents inside Iran are now challenging the legitimacy of his election victory, many of his fiercest critics from overseas will be content to see him remain in power. While supporters of the leading rival candidate insist that the election has been stolen, one of the only independent polls conducted before the election indicated that Mir Hossein Mousavi was running far behind the president.

Although President Ahmadinejad's opponents inside Iran are now challenging the legitimacy of his election victory, many of his fiercest critics from overseas will be content to see him remain in power. "Hopes of a Tehran spring under a moderate new president pledged to explore improved relations with the United States seemingly have been dashed by the apparent landslide victory of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the populist and polarising incumbent," Michael Theodoulou wrote in The National. "His disputed triumph was swiftly and emphatically endorsed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who hailed it as a 'divine blessing'. He made clear the security forces would brook no protest from dismayed and disbelieving supporters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the reformist challenger who also declared victory." The Middle East analyst, Gary Sick, summarised the sequence of events starting on the afternoon of election day, Friday, June 12. As the polls closed, mobile text messaging was turned off nationwide. Security forces soon poured out into the streets in large numbers. The ministry of interior, which oversaw the elections, was surrounded by concrete barriers and armed men. National television began broadcasting pre-recorded messages calling for everyone to unite behind the election winner. The Mousavi campaign was informed officially that they had won the election - which may have briefly lulled them into complacency - but then the ministry of interior announced a landslide victory for Mr Ahmadinejad. Unlike previous elections, there was no breakdown of the vote by province, which would have provided a way of judging its credibility. The voting patterns announced by the government were uniform across all parts of the country, an impossibility. Less than 24 hours later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei publicly announced his congratulations to the winner, apparently confirming that the process was complete and irrevocable, contrary to constitutional requirements. Shortly thereafter, all mobile phones, Facebook, and other social networks were blocked, as well as major foreign news sources. "All of this had the appearance of a well-orchestrated strike intended to take its opponents by surprise - the classic definition of a coup. Curiously, this was not a coup of an outside group against the ruling elite; it was a coup of the ruling elite against its own people." In a letter written after the election results had been announced, Mr Mousavi said: "I am concerned that the continuation of the current situation will transform all key members of this regime into fabulists in confrontation with the nation and seriously jeopardise them in this world and the next. "I advise all officials to halt this agenda at once before it is too late, return to the rule of law and protect the nation's vote and know that deviation from law renders them illegitimate. They are aware better than anyone else that this country has been through a grand Islamic revolution and the least message of this revolution is that our nation is alert and will oppose anyone who aims to seize the power against the law." After the protests had erupted, Time magazine reported: "It's way past midnight in Tehran, but this city is not sleeping. Outside on the streets, people are honking their horns in protest and stretching their hands out of cars making peace signs - a sign of support for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition candidate apparently defeated by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential election on Friday. "In neighborhoods across north and central Tehran, shouts of 'Death to dictator!' fill the air, mostly in female voices, coming from house windows. There are also shouts of 'Allah-o Akbar!' - reminiscent of the revolution - on the urging of a communique from Mousavi's office. "Some of Tehran's main streets have been turned into urban battlegrounds. Groups of mostly young men have set large garbage bins on fire in the middle of streets, torn out street signs and fences, broken the windows and ATM machines of state banks, and burnt at least five large buses in the middle of streets." While Mr Mousavi's supporters insist that the election has been stolen, one of the only independent polls conducted before the election indicated that Mr Ahmadinejad's rival was running far behind the president. The poll conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow in mid-May anticipated that Mr Ahmadinejad could receive twice as many votes as Mr Mousavi, although it predicted that there would be no outright winner from the first round of voting. "At the stage of the campaign for President when our poll was taken, 34 per cent of Iranians surveyed said they will vote for incumbent President Ahmadinejad. Mr Ahmadinejad's closest rival, Mir Hussein Mousavi, was the choice of 14 per cent, with 27 per cent stating that they still do not know who they will vote for. President Ahmadinejad's other rivals, Mehdi Karroubi and Mohsen Rezai, were the choice of 2 per cent and 1 per cent, respectively. "A close examination of our survey results reveals that the race may actually be closer than a first look at the numbers would indicate. More than 60 per cent of those who state they don't know who they will vote for in the Presidential elections reflect individuals who favour political reform and change in the current system. "89 per cent of Iranians say that they will cast a vote in the upcoming Presidential elections. The poll shows that 87 per cent of Persians, 94 per cent of Azeris and around 90 per cent of all other ethnicities intend to vote in the upcoming elections. "About seven in ten Iranians think the elections will be free and fair, while only one in ten thinks they will not be free and fair. "The current mood indicates that none of the candidates will likely pass the 50 per cent threshold needed to automatically win; meaning that a second round runoff between the two highest finishers, as things stand, Mr Ahmadinejad and Mr Mousavi, is likely. In the 2005 Presidential elections, the leader in the first round, Hashemi Rafsanjani, lost to his runner-up, Mr Ahmadinejad, in the second round runoff - though an incumbent has never been defeated in a Presidential election since the beginning of the Islamic Republic. "Inside Iran, considerable attention has been given to Mr Mousavi's Azeri background, emphasising the appeal his Azeri identity may have for Azeri voters. The results of our survey indicate that only 16 per cent of Azeri Iranians indicate they will vote for Mr Moussavi. By contrast, 31 percent of the Azeris claim they will vote for Mr Ahmadinejad." With Mr Ahmadinejad's victory disputed but unlikely to be reversed, Christopher Dickey asked what this development means for the region and American policy? "The most obvious winner is Israel's right-wing Likud government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. There was never the slightest indication that a Mousavi victory would lead Iran to dial back its programme for enriching uranium and, potentially, building nuclear weapons. And Israelis see that programme as a threat to their existence, no matter who is president of Iran. But Mousavi's touchy-feely image as a moderate reformist would have clouded the issue, obscuring the potential dangers as the Israelis see them, and making it harder, politically, for Netanyahu to keep open the option of a military attack to set back the nuclear programme. "When it looked like Mousavi might win, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC ) started sending out e-mails to American journalists and opinion makers insisting that Mousavi was a very bad guy, too. Specifically, they said Mousavi was responsible for the secret deal with the underground network of Pakistani scientist AQ Khan that laid the foundations for Iran's nuclear program. But now AIPAC doesn't have to worry. Ahmadinejad's solid reputation as a Jew-baiting Holocaust denier will make it easier for Netanyahu to frustrate American attempts at dialogue with Tehran. And for the same reason, in political terms, Iran under Ahmadinejad is a perfect target should Netanyahu decide war is his best or only option."

pwoodward@thenational.ae