It is unclear that the reformists (Mousavi and karrubi) can even win their fierce public opinion battle with the election officials, who have been anything but media shy about defending the elections process and its outcome as legitimate, says Kaveh L. Afrasiabi.
Click to view image: 'Mirhossein-Mousavi'
Legally, the fate of Iran's 2009 presidential elections is a closed book and, yet, the defeated reformist candidates, Mir Hossain Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi, continue to challenge the final verdict of the oversight Council of Guardian, which has put a seal of approval on the electoral victory of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As a result, the continuing effort of these two candidates is largely for the court of public opinion, as well as to garner some concessions from the government, irrespective of how many influential clergy in Qom or other cities side with them.
But, it is unclear that the reformists can even win their fierce public opinion battle with the election officials, who have been anything but media shy about defending the elections process and its outcome as legitimate. Both the Interior Minister and the head of the elections organization, Kamran Daneshjoo, have accused the reformists of "speaking in generalities and that is a sign that their hands are empty," this while the Mousavi camp in particular has tried to bolster its case by publishing two supplementary reports on the website of Mr. Mousavi, citing the evidence that ostensibly proves their allegation of a rigged elections.
Unfortunately, a close scrutiny of Mousavi's net of evidence shows that it simply falls short by a huge margin from the threshold of a convincing argument, particularly since there are questionable holes in it, including the following:
According to the report by Mousavi's election truth committee, "in the town of Ghaenat in South Khorasan, Ahmadinejad has received between 80% to 90% of votes in circulating boxes compared to 40% to 50% of stationary ballot boxes."
The term "circulating boxes" refers to those assigned for remote, hard-to-reach areas as well as hospitals and prisons. Mousavi's committee has complained that the government had deliberately put out too many "circulating boxes" and "this is a sign of intention for widespread fraud."
Not necessarily. The Interior Ministry has clarified that in the previous elections there were 14,102 circulating boxes and "we added only 200 boxes."
More important, a close examination of the voting breakdown in Ghaenat, available on the website of the Interior Ministry (www.moi.ir), shows the above-mentioned allegation of Mr.Mousavi to be factually incorrent as can be determined by comparing votes in several stationary and circulating boxes.
Thus for example, in the stationary box numbers 3 and 4, Ahmadinejad received 773 and 733 votes compared to 58 and 28 votes for Mousavi, clearly more than 50%. Or in the circulating boxes number 3 and 5, Ahmadinejad received less than 80%: he received 396 and 692 votes respectively in comparison to 109 and 223 votes for Mousavi.
Or take the reformists' complaint that Ahmadinejad could not have possibly won more votes than the candidates Mohsen Rezai and Mehdi Karrubi in the province of Lorestan since they are lors. Aside from the questionable assumption that Iranian people necessarily vote along ethnic lines -- they do not as an Azeri candidate, Mehr Alizad an Azeri received only 28% of Azeri vote in the previous presidential elections -- the other problem with this argument is its blindness to the fact that Mr. Mousavi actually did rather well, e.g., he won several districts in Lorestan's Khoramabad.
In fact, contrary to all the media hype by Mousavi and his supporters about stolen elections, future historians probing the question of why Mousavi lost, and there are compelling reasons for that some of it cited by his own people (see below), the question may turn out to be how he actually managed to get some many votes (for a relatively unknown who had been out of limelight for 21 years, had a late entry and a limited urban-centered campaign)? In this light, it is noteworthy that in some parts of Lorestan, such as Aligoodarz, the combined vote of three challengers was 26,208 compared to 39,690 for Ahmadinejad.
Another complain is that in some 60 cities and towns the level of participation exceeded the number of local eligible voters. In some areas, such as Shemiranat in northern Tehran and city of Yazd where this occurred, Mr. Mousavi actually received more votes than Ahmadinejad, just as Mousavi received 50,971 votes in Iranshahr, in the province of Baluchestan, compared to 33,802 votes for Ahmadinejad. In Yazd, Mousavi received 149090 votes and Ahmadinejad received 1333792 votes, to cite another relevant election number that belies the fraud theory, just as Mousavi carried 52% votes in Tehran (thus rendering meaningless the question of Mousavi's Tehran supporters, "where is my vote?" Strictly speaking, those voters had no right to ask such a question because they were not protesting acts of fraud against their own votes).
Central to Mousavi's allegation of a rigged elections is that Ahmadinejad camp stuffed the ballot boxes and may have done this by using the excess millions of election forms that the Interior Ministry had published. In response, the Interior Minister has furnished the following plausible explanation: "We saw that the norm is to print between 15 to 20 percent more forms than the number of eligible voters, so on this basis, the total number of election forms was 60000,852 (sixty million and 852)."
At the same time, Mousavi has complained about the shortage of election forms in some areas that caused a delay. The Interior Ministry has explained that in response to such shortages due to heavy turnout, they sent "1100,000 forms to Tehran, 50,000 to Qom, 100,000 to Isfahan, and 30,000 to Azerbaijan and the excess forms are in place at the Bank Melli safe."
A lame complaint by Mousavi is that there was "insufficient time" and the polls should have remained longer. In fact, the government extended the hours and should be credited for thus being able to receive the vote of 85% of eligible voters, by keeping some districts open until 1:30 AM the next day, yet this hardly matters to the "stolen elections" conspirary theorists who treat their allegations as self-evident truth unencumbered by conflicting data that negates their argument (and this applies to the likes of Roger Cohen and his colleagues in New York Times as well, who have yet to scrutinize the evidence presented by the reformists).
Ironically, the more information Mousavi has presented to prove his case, the more he has undermined a lion share of the "rigged elections" theory that deals with how the rural Iran voted, in light of a recent Chatham House report that disputes Ahmadinejad's popularity in rural Iran.
To elaborate, shifting discourse to the allegation that Ahmadinejad won by "puchasing votes," the Mousavi truth committee has listed several reasons as to why Ahmadinejad received so many votes in villages across Iran, worth quoting at length:
"Mr. Ahmadinejad with the intention of buying votes did the following by using the public budget and government resources: 1. By giving 80,000 tumans as profit for Justice Stocks to more than 4,500,000 people covered by welfare institutions, and more than 5200,000 people in villages with a total voting population of 6800,000.
Increasing the salaries of retired employees on the eve of the elections;
distributing potatoes around the country;
distributing rice, oil, wheat, etc., especially in the deprived provinces;
distributing cash or certificates among social groups such as nurses, students, members of Islamic councils of villages..."
Yet, while the above pre-election practices of the incumbent president may have been ethically questionable, they are not illegal, nor for sure are they signs of any election fraud.
Another complaint by Mousavi is that some of his representatives were not allowed to monitor the election. Mousavi's truth committee admits that this happened in Tehran, where some "50% of voting centers" had no representatives from Mousavi. Again, the fact that Mousavi won in Tehran alone suggests that this is not necessarily an evidence of fraud, in light of the Interior Ministry's response that a "few hundreds" were not accredited due to late submission of personal data, photos, etc. but that more than 40,000 were accredited and observed the voting.
No wonder Mousavi and Karrubi declined the invitation of elections officials to a televised debate, nor did they bother to attend a meeting at the Council of Guardian to raise their complaints, only Rezai showed up while the Council was reviewing the complaint.
Mousavi's initial complaint to the Council of Guardian was equally weak and thin on hard evidence of elections fraud, as shown in my previous contribution, "Mousavi's Untenable Complaint", pertaining mostly to pre-election debates and the like. The pile of new "evidence" mentioned above does not make Mousavi's allegations more ironclad but rather more contradictory and even less reliable, by shifting the complaint to Ahmadinejad's unethical "vote purchasing" policies and, ultimately, reflecting the absence of hard evidence of widespread fraud.
Click to view image: 'Mahmoud Ahmadinejad'
|Liveleak on Facebook|