As a journalist who has been covering the Iranian Election, almost every day for the past two months from my puny little computer, I was shocked and dismayed when I read Kaveh L. Afrasiabi's article on the Iranian Election Crisis. Published in the Huffington Post on August 20, 2009 and titled "Obama Should Congratulate Ahmadinejad," the article urges President Obama to accept the outcome of the election and congratulate Ahmadinejad on his victory.
It must be pointed out, that throughout his article, Mr. Afrasiabi misrepresents the truth, omits key details, and at times simply presents inaccurate or false information to support his point of view. Fortunately, we live in a time of 'information overload' where the truth is easy to find, and we all know that there are always two sides to any given story.
Unlike Mr. Afrasiabi - who fails to mention on his Huffington Post profile that he has been a staunch supporter of Ahmadinejad for years -- I concede that I have been drawn to the plight of millions of Iranians. I am an insignificant 'International Green' who supports Iranians in their struggle to obtain their rights. After reading Mr. Afrasiabi's article, I had no other choice than to write a response - and I do so as an admirer and supporter of the Sea of Green - not as a representative.
Extracts of Mr. Afrasiabi's article are included - without any touch-ups or rephrasing below in block quotes. My comments, rebuttals, and what I believe to be the "whole story" follow the extracts.
There are several good reasons why president Barack Obama should join his White House guest this week, Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak, as well as the UN's Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and dozens of other world leaders who have extended congratulations to Iran's duly re-elected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not to do so reflects a poor judgment on the White House's part, particularly since Obama has yet to fulfill his own post-election promise of responding to Ahmadinejad's letter that congratulated him for his victory.
Contrary to what was stated, neither UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, nor President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has congratulated Ahmadinejad. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon did send a letter to Ahmadinejad after the elections. His spokesperson, Marie Okabe, later clarified that the letter should not be construed, in any way, as congratulating Ahmadinejad. According to Ms. Okabe, "The letter takes advantage of the occasion of the inauguration to express the hope that Iran and the United Nations will continue to cooperate closely in addressing regional and global issues." She went on to add, "It is not accurate to refer to this as a congratulatory letter."
In regards to Mr. Mubarak, the Presidency of the Islamic Republic of Iran's website did report, three weeks ago, that Mr. Mubarak had sent a note to Ahmadinejad congratulating him on his re-election. However, the Egyptian Foreign Ministry has since denied the report. Egyptian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hossam Zaki's response to the media about the story was, "I cannot confirm the authenticity of the report." Furthermore, Arab League Secretary General, Amr Moussa's act of congratulating Ahmadinejad cannot, in all honesty, be considered as an endorsement by Arab League Members - including Egypt.
Iranian media and government-run websites have claimed that the Japanese Premier, Taro Aso, has also congratulated Ahmadinejad. However, it comes as no surprise, that this report cannot be confirmed either.
Notwithstanding the above, there indeed have been some world leaders who have congratulated Ahmadinejad. A closer examination, however, reveals that out of the two dozen or so congratulatory notes, the majority were sent either by countries without a democracy or by heads of countries that do not wish to upset Iran's Supreme Leader - given their geographic proximity and strong regional interests.
It is ludicrous to think that the leaders of China, North Korea, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, UAE, Syria, Qatar and Tajikistan would be, in any way, concerned about the fairness of an election. Let us not forget that the above-mentioned countries are dictatorships, strong-arm monarchies or have national leaders whose own elections were considered controversial.
The countries of Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Armenia and Iraq fall into the second category of "not wanting to upset Iran's Supreme Leader." Turkey - because of the Kurdish issue; Lebanon - to appease Hezbollah; Armenia - because Iran is one of the few neighbors with which it has friendly relations - and Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq - because their interests strongly demand good relations with Iran, regardless of the leadership.
This leaves out Brazil, India, Russia, Venezuela, Indonesia, Yemen and Hamas-held Gaza. As for countries such as Japan, Nations in the EU bloc, Australia, New Zealand and Canada - all countries that rank at the top when it comes to democracy - none have congratulated Ahmadinejad. Thus, Obama's refusal to send a congratulatory note actually shows sound judgment on his part, as he heads a Nation that is a world-leader in democracy.
First, with the dust of the post-election turmoil settling and the absence of any hard evidence of "rigged elections" becoming more and more transparent, time is actually on the side of Ahmadinejad, who has been much vilified in the western press, and maligned at home by his reformist challengers, as the grinch who "stole" the election.
Unfortunately, the sum of evidence presented by Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi to corroborate their allegations of widespread fraud in the June 12th elections simply doesn't add up. This author has examined in depth both the official complaints of losing candidates, as well as the various reports issued by their "truth committee", and has found them to be dreadfully lacking in substance, contradictory, and thick on irrelevant innuendo, such as passing off such pre-election "irregularities" seen in television debates as evidence of election fraud.
The description of, "'the dust of post-election turmoil settling" baffles the mind. The Iranian people have been protesting at every opportunity -- in spite of an extremely high security presence. They have been shot at, beaten, tear gassed, imprisoned, tortured, and in many cases brutally killed. How has the dust settled?
In late June, thousands gathered at Ghoba Mosque and around Tehran. Thousands more turned out, facing the brutality of the security forces on July 30th. Hundreds were chanting in support of Karroubi, in front of Etemaade Melli's office less than two weeks ago, although he explicitly asked them not to. Nightly, people chant "Alloha Akbar" from their rooftops, despite the threat of being shot at, fined, arrested or imprisoned. When the opposition calls for a protest, the people of Iran protest, not only in Tehran. We must keep in mind the thousands that gathered around the country, whose voices cannot be heard because of the government's media blackout. The claim that, "The protests are over," can only be made, IF and WHEN:
- Protests are no longer illegal; meaning that people can protest without the fear of reprisal
- Opposition Leaders call for a protest
- No one shows up
The truth of the matter is, if there are no "grand protests," it is not because people don't want to protest, but because the opposition has not called for one.
Regarding the claim, "The elections were not rigged," the mere fact that 'defeated' candidates and reformist politicians - and their followers - were not the only ones to have cast doubt on the results should merit speculation. Many others have challenged the validity of the results, including former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who expressed his doubt during his sermon at Friday Prayer's, as well as Khatami, who released a statement calling for a "referendum" over the issue.
For the sake of argument, let us set aside for a moment, that the previous Supreme Leader Rohullah Khomeini and the current Supreme Leader Seyed Ali Khamanei are dictators in the guise of religious sanctity. Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mohammad Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani are all two-term heads of the Iranian Government. Even if we discount Mousavi as a stakeholder in the election, dismiss Khatami as a reformist, what about arch-conservative Rafsanjani? Then again, these people are politicians and you never know what Rafsanjani might be hoping to gain from this.
Then what about a class of Iranian leaders who have little to nothing to gain by questioning the legitimacy of the government? Where do the clerics stand? In case anyone missed their comments here is what they have to say: Grand Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri
"No one in their right mind could believe the election results..."
(One might say he has something to gain because he is a clear choice to replace Khamenei, if he is to be replaced, so let us proceed with the rest)
Grand Ayatollah Bayat-Zanjani
"Every healthy mind casts doubt on the way the election was held..."
Grand Ayatollah Lotfollah Safi Golpayegani
Called the election results announced by the government "a grand lie..." Grand Ayatollah Yousef Sane'ie
Referring to the opposition leader, "God maintain unity with you gentlemen, that your victory is unity, the masses will also follow..."
Grand Ayatollah Nasser Makarem Shirazi
Declared his intention not to congratulate Ahmadinejad on the announced results of the Presidential election. Grand Ayatollah Abdolkarim Mousavi Ardebili
"We do not have to pacify the protest by force" in a meeting in late June with the Guardian Council, according to widely-quoted story from the Iranian Labor News Agency. "Let the people decide who is right and who is not."
Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri
Called the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "illegitimate" and "tyrannical..."
Ayatollah Hossein Zarandi
Posted a letter in support of opposition leader Ayatollah Rafsanjani's Friday sermon. Ayatollah Sayyed Hossein Mousavi Tabrizi
Praised Rafsanjani's sermon, declared that the Guardian Council was biased [in regards to the elections] and that people have a right to demonstrate.
Ayatollah Hashemzadeh Harisi
"Distrust of the people is a fact and it must be confessed."
Ayatollah Haj Shaykh Ebrahimi Amini
"Errors had occurred" during the election, said Amini in a June 12 on KhabarOnline.
Of course, there are Ayatollahs who have supported the elections' results, but not a single Grand Ayatollah is on that list, except for Khamenei himself. These are Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, Ayatollah Seyyed Ahmad Thalami, Ayatollah Abolghasem Khazali, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi and Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani.
That is six Grand Ayatollahs and four Ayatollahs - not including Rafsanjani - directly questioning the legitimacy of the election against one Grand Ayatollah and seven Ayatollahs. Clerics-wise, the opposition is a clear winner.
As for the media, most of the reformist media outlets have been banned. But even among Iran's government-owned media, there is dissent. Press TV's website has recently started to insert the word 'disputed' before the word 'elections.' In such circumstances, how could one possibly assume that everything has gone back to normal?
I am going to take the liberty of answering comments with similar claims or arguments together. Arguments written by Dr. Afrasiabi are in blockquotes:
Second, lest we forget, Mousavi alone had more than forty thousand representatives at nearly ninety percent of the voting centers and, yet, his complaint to the oversight Guardian Council refers only to the few hundreds who were not allowed to monitor the balloting, without bothering to mention that nearly all his eyes and ears who monitored the process failed to report and document any major irregularities. According to the election officials, Mousavi had lodged complaints about merely 89 centers, indeed a minuscule number compared to more than forty-five thousand such centers throughout Iran.
Fifth, compared to the past, the 2009 election was more transparent, as the government has published all the ballot box data pertaining to more than sixty thousand boxes receiving nearly forty million votes -- on average each box contained some 875 votes, making it easy to tally; hence the rapidity of the vote count, thanks in part to the system's electronic upgrade.
Unlike the US - where election results are announced by thousands of officials from precincts at county and then state levels - in Iran, you simply get a final spreadsheet, prepared for your convenience, by the Ministry of Interior. It is unnecessary in Iran to stuff ballots, buy voters or duplicate voting cards - because the checks and balances, found in the US system, are simply absent.
The equivalent of this in the US would look like this: The Department of Homeland Security, in close coordination with the FBI, sealing ballot boxes as soon as voting ends, tallying the votes behind closed doors, and then publishing the results. There are no other sources to corroborate the results that the Ministry of Interior publishes. It just needs a stamp from the Guardian Council. This makes "rigging the vote" a much easier reality than possible in the US. You simply need the Ministry of Interior on your side to achieve the desired result. The way in which the Ministry of Interior has collaborated with security forces in brutally suppressing peaceful protesters, clearly signals where their allegiance lies.
Third, by all indications Mr. Mousavi, who improperly declared himself the "definite winner" exactly one hour after the voting had stopped, put the cart before the horse by first challenging the election results and then fishing for evidence, a hopeless cause as his own truth committee has undermined the argument that Ahmadinejad did not win the rural votes, by complaining that Ahmadinejad "purchased votes" by distributing cash and food to some 5.5 million villagers, as well as raising salaries, in the weeks ahead of election day.
Mousavi has repeatedly said that he received news from multiple sources that the results would likely be rigged on Election Day. But here is a good reason as to why Mousavi might have declared himself the winner: Fatemeh Rajabi, who is considered the lead female-backer of Ahmadinejad in Iran, and who runs Rajanews.com, published quotes on RajaNews - which many consider a rather embarrassing slip of the tongue. Rajanews.com quotes an anonymous Iranian Member of Parliament as saying, "Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, called Mousavi on the evening of the elections and congratulated him on his victory." Larijani is a conservative and is also the father-in-law of Khamanei's son.
The website further quotes the MP by stating this about a Larijani: "What he did on the afternoon of Election Day, by calling Mousavi and congratulating him on the finalization of his presidency, cannot be overlooked. As the head of a branch of power, he is considered to have access to firsthand and classified information and news. When he congratulated Mousavi, at a time when voting hours had not even ended yet, it made him delusional and encouraged him to take the seditious and provocative positions and behaviors which disturbed people's security and calm and significantly harmed the might and honor of the system."
Was this not a strong enough motivation for Mousavi to believe that he had won the election, despite reports that the vote would be rigged? Furthermore, the argument that Ahmadinejad did not win the rural vote still stands. Simply because people are stating that he 'did not win it,' does not mean that he 'did not attempt to buy it.'
Fourth, such complaints, including Mousavi's allegation of improper use of government resources, such as means of transportation, by the incumbent president, are not strictly speaking germane to allegations of "widespread fraud" at the ballot boxes, nor are unprecedented in Iran's young electoral system, in light of similar complaints in the past elections including against the reformist ex-president, Mohammad Thalami.
I completely agree with the first part of this comment. Yes, improper use of governmental resources, by the Incumbent President before the election, is irrelevant in this case. However, the notion that the Iranian democracy is 'young,' and as such, these things are not unprecedented, is but a lame duck excuse. Afghanistan is a young democracy. Iraq is a young democracy. Timor-Leste is a young democracy. Iran is not. Perhaps the word 'dysfunctional' would be a good substitute for the word 'young.'
Sixth, the pitfall of pro-Mousavi demonstrators in Tehran who were carrying the sign "where is my vote?" was that they were not actually protesting that their own votes had been rigged; how could they since they won a solid majority in the country's capital, with Mousavi receiving 52 percent of the votes there, some 300,000 more than Ahmadinejad. The problem with those demonstrators and their leadership was that they somehow felt that they should have also won in the rest of the country -- an undue expectation, among other things, because of Mousavi's late entry to the race after a twenty-year absence from politics and his limited campaign compared to Ahmadinejad's extensive trips to every single province, particularly the "deprived" areas such as Kerman, Chahar Mahal, South Khorasan, etc, where he won by a solid majority.
First of all, even with 52% of the vote in Tehran for Mousavi, he was able to amass at least a million supporters, if not more, to come out on to the streets - several times - to show their patronage. Why was Ahmadinejad, if he won around 40% of the vote in Tehran, only able to draw a few thousand, possibly less, to come out and support him?
Ahmadinejad even had someone "Photoshop" the pictures taken of his supporters, to give the appearance of a larger crowd - a fact since unmasked. The only plausible explanation for the vast disparity between the numbers of supporters on the streets for each candidate would have to be that the votes were stolen from Mousavi in Tehran. If this is the case, it makes perfect sense for Mousavi supporters to protest with signs that ask, "Where is my vote?"
Secondly, as widely attested, the protests were not confined to only Tehran. Protesters carried the same placards across most cities in Iran. Even in states where Ahmadinejad had garnered tons of support. As reported, protests have so far been authenticated in the cities of Ahvaz, Shiraz, Gorgan, Tabriz, Rasht, Babol, Mashhad, Isfahan, Zahedan, Qazvin, Sari, Karaj, Tabriz, Shahsavar, Orumieh, Bandar Abbas, Arak and Birjend. Many of these cities lie in provinces where Ahmadinejad was claimed to be the "clear winner" - in a country where more than 60% of the population is urban. Why is it that his supporters did not rally 'to counter' Mousavi's supporters? Why were thousands on the streets of Tabriz if Ahmadinejad has won this city? The argument that, "Ahmadinejad was simply more well-known than Mousavi," ignores the fact that Mousavi has been a reformist leader for a while now. He was considered by many reformists to be the front-runner for their candidacy in the 2005 Presidential Election. He entered the 2009 election three months prior to the vote. Certainly, if he was not well-known enough to the youth, Khatami's withdrawal of his candidacy -- and subsequent support for Mousavi -- did send a very clear message to the populace. Khatami had served as the "face of reform" for the past decade or so, thus making his actions quite clear to his followers.
Ahmadinejad's improper use of government resources obviously gave him an advantage against Mousavi. Had the elections been transparent the situation that exists today could have been avoided. The protests would not be so widespread, Mousavi would not have received such support from the clerics, and Rafsanjani would certainly not be doubtful.
Seventh, in addition to Tehran, Mousavi also won in Yazd, Zahedan, Zanjan, Ardabil, and his hometown of Shabestar, a total of 46 voting districts mostly dominated by ethnic minorities, whereas the majority Persians voted solidly for Ahmadinejad, reflecting the race's ethnic undercurrent.
This argument seems to suggest that 'ethnic divides' played a role in determining the outcome. Simply put, it argues that Ahmadinejad won, because he is Persian and Mousavi lost because he is Azeri. There were no official exit polls to give a clear view of which ethnic group voted for whom. Let us examine the cities mentioned, and then look at some other examples:
Yazd is solidly Persian - both the city and the province. Mousavi won the city by 148,090 votes to Ahmadinejad's 133,792, but lost the province with 337,178 votes going Ahmadinejad and 255,799 to Mousavi.
Ardabil Province - where the city of Ardabil is located, and East Azerbaijan Province, where Shabestar is located - are both dominated by the Azeri ethnic group, from which Mousavi hails. East Azerbaijan is the mainstay of Iran's Azeri culture. Surprisingly, Ahmadinejad won both Ardabil and East Azerbaijan - the latter with a considerable margin. Zanjan is primarily an Azeri Province - yet Ahmadinejad managed to win it.
Mr. Afrasiabi's statement regarding Zahedan, however, may be correct. The city is located in Sistan o Baluchistan Province - largely populated by the Baluch minority. Mousavi won both Zahedan and the province.
If the ethnic argument held, Mousavi clearly should have won a majority of provinces that are dominated by ethnic minorities - with plenty of leeway. However, this does not appear to be the case at all. Let us now examine some of the major provinces that are predominantly non-Persian:
Ilam, for the most part is Kurdish: Ahmadinejad 58% - Mousavi 38%
Kurdistan, for the most part is Kurdish: Ahmadinejad 61% - Mousavi 42%
Kermanshah, mixture of Kurds, Persians and Turks: Ahmadinejad 51% - Mousavi 42%
Khuzestan, a mix of Arabs, Persians, Lurs, Laks, Qashqais and Afsharis: Ahmadinejad 63% - Mousavi 27%
North Khorasan, a mix of Persians, Turks, Tats and Kurds: 73% Ahmadinejad - 24% Mousavi
The only two provinces Mousavi managed to win were indeed non-Persian for the most part. These include Sistan o Baluchistan, as mentioned above, and West Azerbaijan which is predominantly inhabited by Kurds and Azeris. Yet, Mousavi barely managed to win West Azerbaijan by 49% of the votes to Ahmadinejad's 46%, and Sistan o Baluchistan by 51% to Ahmadinejad's 46%.
Eighth, with respect to the question of how Ahmadinejad's challengers could have done so poorly in their own home provinces, there is actually nothing unusual about this, and suffice it to say that in the 2005 elections, two candidates -- Mehr Alizad and Bagher Moin -- lost badly in their birth provinces.
Of the two candidates mentioned above, Bagher Moin actually did not run in the 2005 Presidential Elections. Two other candidates - Bagher Ghalibaf and Mostafa Moin - took part. Similar names, but not the same person.
As for the reference to Mehr Alizad, I am left to deduce that Mr. Afrasiabi designated this as a 'nom du plume' for Mohsen Mehralizadeh. Mehralizadeh ran in the 2005 Elections and handily won three provinces - Ardabil, East Azerbaijan and West Azerbaijan. He garnered almost 4.4% of the total vote. Contrary to the claim he did not win his home province, Mehralizadeh was born in Maragheh, East Azerbaijan.
What Mr. Afrasiabi fails to mention are the more substantial arguments - presented by Mehdi Karoubi and Mohsen Rezaei - as evidence in support of electoral fraud:Karroubi took part in the 2005 Elections and won more than 17% of the total votes in the first round. Mysteriously enough, this very same candidate, was only able to secure less than 1% (0.85% to be exact) of the vote in the 2009 Elections.
With respect to Rezaei, the results showed that he had won 681,851 votes. However, credible sources quoted the candidate as claiming to have conclusive evidence - in the form of voter registration cards - of higher number of votes. Before Rezaei's voice was 'muffled' by the regime, a credible source claimed on June 17th that, "Mohsen Rezaei, until yesterday afternoon, found evidence that proves at least 900,000 Iranians - based on their national ID cards - voted for him." Furthermore, there is evidence on Rezaei's website that shows his vote count ,actually going down rather than going up, by about 33,000 votes - while candidates' tallies were being broadcasted on National TV during a four-hour span.
Ninth, for sure the 2009 presidential elections was not problem-free and the government conceded the irregularity of excess votes in some 50 towns affecting 3 million votes. But, in some areas where this occurred such as Yazd or Shemiranat, Mousavi actually won, and mostly this phenomenon was attributable to summer travel affecting Caspian resort towns -- there are no registered voters in Iran, and Iranian voters can vote anywhere with proper identification.
It is doubtful that the Guardian Council - the government entity responsible for finding discrepancies in the 2009 Election - is, or was at any time, serious about investigating allegations of fraud. There is no better example for this, than the mere fact that the Guardian Council announced, "No fraud had taken place" before any evidence of voter fraud was even presented to them. To make matters worse, they soon came up with a 3 million vote 'irregularity,' which is an alarming number of votes considering the fact that the total number of votes cast was 39 million.
What is more, the Guardian Council has a horrible track record of anti-reformist acts and decrees. The most prominent example is when during the 2004 elections, it barred hundreds of candidates from taking part in the election, including 80 sitting MPs. The majority of these disqualified candidates were reformists. This gave the hardliners a more than comfortable majority in Iran's Parliament in the elections that followed. Suffice it to say, the doubt and suspicion created by the Guardian Council, by their own actions, is sufficient to warrant distrust of their investigations into voting fraud.
In addition to that, many people - including eminent clerics as mentioned previously - and reformists, have accused the Guardian Council of siding with a single candidate: Ahmadinejad. The doubt placed upon the Guardian Council by their own actions is sufficient enough to doubt their investigations into voting fraud.
Tenth, Iran's election system may not be fraud proof but it is for all practical purposes "rigged-proof" in light of the elaborate oversight by two sets of monitors, tens of thousands of monitoring representatives by the candidates, and the participation of some 60,000 election staff chosen at local levels primarily from among the ranks of teachers and the like, who are responsible for counting the votes. As of this date, not one of them has come forward corroborating the allegations of ballot box fraud.
We have already examined Iran's flawed electoral system, so we need not cover it again. As for the "not one of them has come forward" comment, I consider this to be an insult to the intelligence of anyone who has been following the news in Iran. Are we forgetting the fact that dozens of people have been placed in jail, tortured, forced to confess and put on trial on charges of planning to overthrow the regime - simply because they cried foul? These people include the likes of a former Vice President. When a former Vice President receives such appalling treatment, how can one expect ordinary teachers to raise their voices about what has transpired?
The notion of 'coming forward' exists in countries that respect a person's right to free speech, the right to question their government's actions, and the right to a fair trial when accused. Conversely, a country which bans foreign media, jails reporters and arrests embassy staff members, is not a place where people deem it safe to come forth and present evidence of fraud. To our amazement, however, people did stand-up to the regime and raised their voice. Those courageous people are now forced to confess, as evident on Iranian state media, to the crime of speaking their minds.
Eleventh, even if all the three million above-mentioned votes had gone Mousavi's way, he would have still fallen short of beating Ahmadinejad, who defeated Mousavi with a margin of two-to-one, by receiving 11 million more votes -- or 63 percent compared to Mousavi's 33 percent -- just as predicted by the Washington-based pollsters of Terror Free Tomorrow, whose pre-election opinion survey led them to predict a first round victory by Ahmadinejad, a conclusion they stuck in their post-election piece in the Washington Post, where they conceded that the voting results "may reflect the will of Iranian voters." Their views have been endorsed by, among others, the US statistical guru, Nate Silver, who has stated that the Iranian elections results are "valid based on statistical analysis."
This argument has been used, over and over again for the past two months, by the Iranian Government via government-owned media. In all honesty, this is nothing more than a well-planned tactic to counter any criticism of the vote. A basic, "Hey, Mousavi would not have won, even if we gave him those 3 million votes in question."
Many polls were held before the election, and there were an equal number of them showing Mousavi as the winner. ILNA, the news agency linked to Rafsanjani - showed that just prior to June 4th, Mousavi was ahead with more than 54% of the vote to Ahmadinejad's 25%. Maziar Bahari - a Newsweek reporter who was arrested during the post-election turmoil - reported a week before the Election, that according to government-funded polls Newsweek observed, about 16 to 18 million Iranians stated that they intended to vote for Mousavi, while only 6-8 million said they planned on voting for Ahmadinejad.
There are various statisticians and organizations who have attempted to crack this case from behind their desks, thousands of miles away from Iran. Among them is Chatham House, one of the world's leading organizations in analyzing and promoting the understanding of major international issues and current affairs. Chatham House released a detailed report on June 21st titled, "Preliminary Analysis of the Voting Figures in Iran's 2009 Presidential Election." A summary of the report is quoted below:
"Working from the province by province breakdowns of the 2009 and 2005 results, released by the Iranian Ministry of Interior on the Farsi pages of their website shortly after the election, and from the 2006 census as published by the official Statistical Centre of Iran, the following observations about the official data and the debates surrounding it can be made:
· In two conservative provinces, Mazandaran and Yazd, a turnout of more than 100% was recorded.
· If Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's victory was primarily caused by the increase in voter turnout, one would expect the data to show that the provinces with the greatest increase in voter turnout would also show the greatest 'swing' in support towards Ahmadinejad. This is not the case.
· In a third of all provinces, the official results would require that Ahmadinejad took not only all former conservative voters, all former centrist voters, and all new voters, but also up to 44% of former reformist voters, despite a decade of conflict between these two groups.
· In 2005, as in 2001 and 1997, conservative candidates, and Ahmadinejad in particular, were markedly unpopular in rural areas. That the countryside always votes conservative is a myth. The claim that this year Ahmadinejad swept the board in more rural provinces flies in the face of these trends."
As for Nate Silver, here is another quote by him published in an article for Wired.com on June 15th: "You could get a couple of university students to figure out a way to create a whole set of results that seem plausible and contain randomness and regional variation," he says. "There's no particular reason to have confidence in the results, but it's probably not going to be fruitful to try and find some master key in the ways the numbers look."
Indeed, much to the chagrin of reformist-friendly pundits in the West, close analysis of the election results gives absolutely no objective basis for leveling the charges of a rigged election. Ahamadinejad won fair and square by receiving some 24 million votes by an electorate that is enamored of his economic populism, fierce nationalism, austere life-style, promotion of Iran's nuclear rights, standing up to Uncle Sam, etc -- this despite a barrage of Western media propaganda prior to the elections that constantly vilified Ahmadinejad.
Mr. Afrasiabi posted statistics from US-based Terror Free Tomorrow organization to support his argument in regards to the electoral results. Let us examine another recent poll, by the same organization, and analyze Ahmadinejad's above-mentioned qualities that supposedly make the Iranian people enamored with him.
The poll - conducted in May of 2009 - showed that 88% of Iranians wanted economic improvement to be the government's top priority, while 56% claimed that Ahmadinejad had failed to keep his campaign promise of "putting oil money on the tables of the people." The simple fact of the matter is, Ahmadinejad's brand of 'economic populism' has turned the Iranian Economy into an utter mess. Certainly, he has tried to spread the wealth that windfall oil prices brought in, but he has not created any wealth, nor has he created any new jobs - the prime concern in Iran where two-thirds of the population is under the age of 30.
Official unemployment rates stand at 17% - up about 5% from when he took office. Financial experts, outside of Iran, believe the rate to be actually much higher. Although Ahmadinejad's economic charts during the Presidential Debates showed inflation to be at 14%, Iran's Central Bank puts the figure at 23.6%. The most damaging evidence against Mahoudanomics, is the fact that Ahmadinejad mismanaged the economy - putting the country in a huge budget deficit even after record oil prices brought in billions of extra dollars. According to the CIA World Fact Book for the year 2009-2010, Iran's oil revenues stand at $51 billion - while the expenditure has skyrocketed to $103 billion. Need I say more?
Terror Free Tomorrow's poll also demonstrated that 55% percent of Iranians supported recognizing Israel and Palestine as independent states in exchange for 'normal relations' with the United States. This suggests that over half of the population does not hate the US - so why would "standing up to Uncle Sam" be a reason for Iranians to love Ahmadinejad?
Mousavi is not anti-Nationalistic either. He has stated time and again that, "Iran's Nuclear Program would not be suspended under any condition" and that "Iran has a right to carry on its peaceful nuclear ambitions." As a matter of fact, all four candidates had the same stance on this issue. Mousavi, on the other hand, isn't as 'anti-Uncle Sam' as Ahmadinejad, and is clearly more willing to take part in dialogue with other nations.
As for the comment on austerity, kudos to Ahmadinejad - this was a non-issue during the elections.
In conclusion, notwithstanding the above suggesting an election fraud hoax that does not withstand the weight of critical scrutiny, it does not bode well for Obama's policy of Iranian engagement to be disengaged from the world's growing recognition that Ahmadinejad was unfairly accused of stealing an election that he actually won fair and square. Even the British diplomat in Tehran attended Ahmadinejad's inaugural ceremony, as did several dozen other foreign diplomats, including from several European nations, in a sign of approval of the election results.
Are we to believe that any ambassador, who attended Ahmadinejad's inauguration ceremony, did so with their leader's official endorsement of Ahmadinejad? I for one have not seen any official notes or letters from the UK or Sweden that would lead one to such a conclusion. Here are the statements that have been officially made about why two EU ambassadors attended the inauguration:
British Foreign Office Spokesperson: "We have several issues we need to address with the government, including its nuclear program and human rights, and to do that we need to keep channels of communication open."
Swedish Foreign Minister: "We always have our ambassador on site in every possible ... country, regardless of the regime in question. As an observer, they are better when they are present than when they are absent."
Sadly, the US has lagged behind, partly due to the negative influence of pro-Mousavi Iranian pundits and academics, many of whom rushed to sign a petition to the UN Secretary General deploring the Iranian government's "disrespect" for the votes of Iranian electorate. Fortunately, the astute UN Secretary General exercised independent judgment and rightly reached the conclusion that despite their academic credentials, the signatories of that petition were fundamentally wrong in their unreflective sounding board for the losing candidates; hence his crucial decision to congratulate Ahmadinejad for his electoral success. Following Ban's footstep, Mr. Obama must now do the same, in the interest of fairness to Ahmadinejad and his mass of Iranian supporters throughout Iran; otherwise the risks to his ship of Iran diplomacy remain rather large.
UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, has not congratulated Ahmadinejad. Fortunately, President Obama, unlike Mr. Afrasiabi, realizes this. Moreover, President Obama has shown sound judgment by firmly standing on the side of democracy and human rights in Iran for the past two months. The primary concern of the US, in respects to Iran is its nuclear program. No candidate - not even Mousavi - declared that they would back down on this issue. Thus, this subject is completely off the table.
What is on the table is the fact that the Iranian Regime has stolen the people's vote. What is on the table is the fact that they have committed evil by brutalizing its populace for demanding their rights. What is on the table is the fact that they have forced a leader upon their people. The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. - a true leader of men - once said, "He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it." Iranians are protesting; Obama must continue to reject the false leader.