The contest that counted in Iran

Millions of Iranians turned out Friday to cast ballots in their presidential “election”. But the real contest there involved only two people: Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i and former president Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Khamene’i won.
He had apparently decided long before Friday’s vote to throw his weight behind incumbent candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Friday evening he moved quite inappropriately fast to declare Ahmadinejad the winner.
Rafsanjani, who runs a number of well-funded business institutions and has often been accused of large-scale corruption, was backing Mir Husain Mousavi, who was declared a loser.
In the two weeks before the “election”, the candidates were able to engage in robust debate, including during televised sessions that by all accounts got pretty feisty. (I didn’t watch them, but some of my friends who did said that A-N did pretty well in them.) Khamene’i even intervened at one point to urge all the candidates to behave more decorously. But I guess he and the group of revolution-guarding “conservatives” around him became increasingly worried at the signs that Mousavi’s supporters were becoming ever bolder in their campaign activities.
We will probably never know the exact count of the millions of votes cast on Friday. It is possible that A-N won the “election” fair and square, as this recent opinion poll had indicated he would. It is possible he didn’t. But Khamene’i rapidly made clear that he didn’t really care how many voters put their X in which box.
My main prediction now is that Khamene’i and A-N will start some large attacks against the bases of Rafsanjani’s business empire, under the rubric of a “move against corruption.” They may well have been planning this campaign all along, and were hoping to gain a strong popular mandate for it from the presidential “election.”
Well, Khamene’i and A-N do have a lot of support in the country. But the country’s social liberals and that other (quite possibly overlapping) group of people who are participants/beneficiaries in Rafsanjani’s business empire so far seem pretty determined to fight back.
The regime has used a quite unacceptable level of violence to quell the recent demonstrations. Those demonstrations have not, themselves, been wholly nonviolent, though Mousavi has called for his supporters to remain nonviolent and it’s possible some of the green-masked individuals seen tossing rocks at the police have been agents provocateurs.
All that violence should stop.
The whole internal struggle over these issues inside Iran is considerably complicated by the fact that the US government has, even under Obama, been continuing the Bush-initiated program of giving support to dissidents and members of national minorities. That program should stop.
Today’s WaPo has, for once, a generally pretty sensible editorial on Iran. It says,

    [A]s a first step, the Obama administration should take care not to signal more respect for [the “election”‘s] results than they merit. Administration officials are right to be responding cautiously and to let the process play out. But there are principles that the administration could be defending even now, squarely supporting the rule of law and democratic expression in Iran…
    President Obama has said, rightly, … that the West should explore all diplomatic possibilities before setting down a path of tightening sanctions or military action. That will remain true: The United States should be willing to talk about arms control and other areas of national interest with Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and whoever else can speak for the nation’s foreign policy.

For those of us who are Americans, that last point is the main one we should focus on.
Update, 10:44 a.m.: A good Pepe Escobar explanation of what’s happening– from Tehran– is here. He also centers of the importance of the election debates, but says that A-N looked “deranged” in the one against Mousavi.
Added 2:22 p.m.:Very sensible words from the Leveretts: “Ahmadinejad won. Get over it.”
They mention the Mousavi’s “Rafsanjani problem”, and they include this important point:

    Ahmadinejad’s criticism that Mousavi’s reformist supporters, including Khatami, had been willing to suspend Iran’s uranium enrichment program and had won nothing from the West for doing so tapped into popular support for the program — and had the added advantage of being true.

A must-read.

20 thoughts on “The contest that counted in Iran”

  1. Juan Cole has some worthwhile comments on that poll that allegedly supports Ahmedinejad’s claimed 2:1 victory:
    By his reading, the poll can at best be taken to predict Ahmedinejad coming in first but with less than 50% of the vote, leading to a run-off. This is quite different from the landslide victory that the official results claim. He also sees reasons to think that the poll underestimated the opposition’s support. Read his full article for all the details.

  2. So, Ahmadinejad won (with more than a bit of help from Khamenei)
    But even better is that POTUS isn’t panicking. Iran has plenty of internal problems that aren’t any of his business, and they can sort them out without his benign advice.
    The best thing is that invasion/bombing has fallen off the table.

  3. I wrote about this last week. The Supreme Leader of Iran is the one who makes all the rules in Iran. He makes all the decisions in the country or controls all the decisions.
    In order to even be on the ballot you must be approved by a 12 person panel. 6 of that panel are appointed by the Supreme Leader and the other 6 are appointed by a group that is hand picked by the Supreme Leader.
    Read more about it here and stick around for more good stuff-

  4. I think the reason Ross is possibly being packed away is that his book release may have been the final nail in Mousavi’s political coffin. I think it’s painfully obvious that some of the US’s Covert Ops money has been going into creating yet another Color Coup in Iran, accompanied (as in the Ukraine Color fiasco a few years back) by a media blitz that seemed ready-to-roll. I don’t know who won the election, but I think that either way, democracy lost in a pitched battle between the Iranian hardliners and the US-backed stooges.
    Ross may have screwed up the Color Coup. But, from Ross’s neocon-ish point of view, that may have been a more desirable result – if war is the goal, a deligitimized Iranian regime may be just the ticket. If Ahmadinejad prevails, expect to hear ‘regime change’ more and more.

  5. I actually did read the Iran survey cited in both the WaPo and Politico.
    Both articles though don´t mention the actual numbers. The survey reports 34%(A-N) to 14% (Mousavi) a month before the election.
    That doesn´t sound like a great number for an incumbent?
    Plus 50% “not answering the question”. As in 27% undecided, 15% refusing to answer, 8% not planning to vote for any of the candidates (page 52 of the report).
    The 15% + 8% are the 22% Juan Cole was puzzling about. (I rounded all numbers. I actually can add 15 and 8. 🙂 Just like TFT. They got a total of 100.1% in their report.)
    How reliable is a poll with just 50% of the people answering your question?
    That´s 500 of the 1001 people polled?
    Even TFT in their survey summary back then cautioned that “the race may actually be closer than a first look at the numbers would indicate”.
    Curious that the authors don´t mention that now in their WaPo op-ed. 🙂
    I´m not a poll expert but if I did a telephone poll where only 50% were answering a question, I´d be extremely wary about how I report the result.
    Especially in a case where I don´t have lots of older data (not a lot of poll data available from Iran). With older data available you can weigh and extrapolate your new raw data and still get a – hopefully – pretty accurate result.
    They seem to simply assume that a 2:1 advantage among the 50% answering the question somehow translates into a 2:1 advantage at the election a month later.
    While saying themselves in the survey summary that “More than 60% of those who state they don´t know who they´ll vote for in the Presidential elections reflect individuals who favor political reform and change in the current system”.
    And the answers to questions about political reform and change don´t seem to favor A-N.
    I´m really not that sure about the accuracy of the poll.

  6. has been going into creating yet another Color Coup in Iran,
    Its IRAN Tiananmen? isn’t
    The Name Islamic Republic of Iran
    Do you see any Islamic behaviours by these ugly Mullah headed by the big Criminal Ali Khamenei who surrounded by big force “Al-Quds” ruling this what he called Islamic regime.
    Do not forgot that “The Supreme Leader of Iran” his office officially and publicly said Iran helped US in the invasion and occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan….

  7. Rafsanjani, who runs a number of well-funded business institutions and has often been accused of large-scale corruption, was backing Mir Husain Mousavi, who was declared a loser.
    Did Rafsanjani worried from AN next move..?

    The question now is what will happen next. Internally, we can expect Ahmadinejad to consolidate his position under the cover of anti-corruption. He wants to clean up the ayatollahs, many of whom are his enemies. He will need the support of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. This election has made Ahmadinejad a powerful president, perhaps the most powerful in Iran since the revolution. Ahmadinejad does not want to challenge Khamenei, and we suspect that Khamenei will not want to challenge Ahmadinejad. A forced marriage is emerging, one which may place many other religious leaders in a difficult position.

    Western Misconceptions Meet Iranian Reality,
    STRATFOR June 15, 2009

  8. “Very sensible words from the Leveretts: “Ahmadinejad won. Get over it.”
    H – your analysis is missing a key point.
    The unexpected wild card in the campaign was the success of Mr and Mrs Mousavi’s use of the “Obama effect” – the extraordinary chord it struck with youth and women in Iran. (Just as it had with Obama’s campaign, and also with the gloobal response to Obama’s presidency.)
    So. At that point the up-until-then Khamene’i/Rafsanjani bunfight suddenly took on a whole new dimension.
    For four days now the “Obama effect” phenomena has been running out of the Iranian government’s control. Tomorrow the Mousavi side has called for a general strike to follow the success of the huge mass demonstrations held today in the face of the demo having been declared “illegal”.
    From what I read the foreign media is supposed to leave Iran by the end of today? That might enable the govt to use full force to regain control. But the images coming out of Iran have been driven by the people’s use of Twitter and YouTube. The videos have been enthralling. And in the US it is Andrew Sullivan, Huff Post and Daily Kos promoting the “revolution.” The Obama-afficionados are going full throttle! If the govt uses full brutality to suppress its opponents, the whole world will be watching it. (The phrase Obama used very skilfully a few moments ago).
    What is the govt to do? Close down the Web? The only alternative I can see is for them to buy off Rafsanjavi and Mousavi. I think Mousavi’s validation of Ahmadinejad’s victory is the only way the genie can be put back in the bottle.

  9. salah, surprised to see you relying so much on a neocon source. (filled with predictable nonsense)

  10. Apart from the violence, this is sounding more and more like a rerun of Mexico’s 2006 election. Anybody remember the contested Mexican election? Of course not! It didn’t merit any news coverage. But Iran’s sure does!!!
    In Mexico, the leftist opposition staged massive protests for months–to no avail. The electoral commission refused to examine any evidence of fraud and certified the results for the pro-business, pro-US Calderon. Will Iran’s do the same for Khamenei? Not if the Western media have any say!
    Moral of the story: if you commit massive election fraud, you better be America’s friend. Otherwise, Uncle Sam will log it as part of the case for war.
    More irony–the Mexican and Iranian flags are very similar–red, white and green bars. The Mexican bars are vertical, the Iranian ones horizontal.

  11. I’m prolly not the only one who does a little JWN-ology (as in Kremlinology) from time to time. So when the phrases and the words come in and go out of fashion, I notice.
    In this post Helena has used the word regime, which as somebody else noted here very recently usually means something like “fair game” or even “free fire zone”. Helena is now calling the Iranian government a “regime”. That tells me that Helena is having to bend towards the counterrevolutionaries.
    But what for me personally is more painful than this use of the word “regime” for the revolutionary tradition that overthrew the monster Shah, is Helena’s placing of the word “election” between those bunny’s ears.
    Helena elaborates. It matters not at all, she is saying, that tens of millions went out to make a choice, and deliberately marked their papers. No, for Helena “the real contest there involved only two people” and the act on the day vanishes, poof!, into air.
    This, if maintained, would be a full JWN-ological capitualation to the dark side, in my opinion. It means that henceforth, much more than usual, JWN is going to be a site of power play, geopolitics, networking, who-you-know-not-what-you-know, and semi-secret religious conviction.
    It means that in the face of the mass polity as subject, on election day, the back will be turned and the gaze focussed upon the chamber, the diwan, or the room that used to be smoke-filled but is no more, because only the working classes smoke these days.
    The voice of God is the voice of the people.
    It’s simple and it doesn’t need an ology.

  12. ‘regime change’
    Key points here:

    * The Islamic Republic is not a democracy. Public will is subordinate to the Supreme Leader’s desires.

    * The Revolutionary Guards exist to protect the theocratic vision, not the Iranian people. It is now doing the job it was designed to do. The only vote that matters in times like these is Khamenei’s.

    * Iranian politics in terms of hardliners, reformers, and pragmatists, we know little about the internal factionalization of the Revolutionary Guards. For all intensive purposes, the organization remains a big black box.

    * The Islamic Revolution in 1979 is on everybody’s mind, including the regime’s. The Revolution was not inevitable. It was a result of a confluence of luck, outrage, and the Shah’s bad decisions. Protests spread and snowballed as the Shah’s forces cracked down,

    *What the Islamic Republic’s leadership has learned, therefore, is how to assert control and break this cycle. They have done so with the help of Chinese security consultants. Rather than simply bang heads as they did in 1999, incidents of which can spark further protest, they try to take photographs and then over the course of days and weeks, to arrest participants. Even if the situation calms, expect a lot of disappearances in coming days.

    * The opposition will try to create sparks that might further protests hoping eventually that the IRGC and Basij will defect.

  13. So, here we have it: Dominic supports Ahmedinejad over Mousavi because the latter is a counterrevolutionary (Boy, I haven’t heard that word in a long time!)
    Makes no difference that the revolution that Mousavi is countering is one of reactionary, Islamic thugs (and I’m not sure that Mousavi isn’t one of those himself). But it’s revolution, which in Dominic’s pitiful life, is probably preferable to non-revolution. And perhaps Dominic can even use the religious fantatics just like Abol-hassan Banisadr (who had to sneak out of Iran dressed as a woman) or Sadegh Ghotbzadeh (who was taken out into an alley and shot) did.
    More power to Dominic!

  14. You see John, the key difference between the Mexican elections and the recent Iranian elections was that during the Mexican elections there were numerous groups of international observers, whereas in Iran, there were none.

  15. The meaning of the Tehran spring
    Pepe Escobar claims :
    As the election approached, an impartial observation of the Iranian presidential TV debates would signal that Ahmadinejad was virtually freaking out. The public debate in Iran made clear that what mattered most for voters was Ahmadinejad’s record of economic incompetence, much more than his foreign policy tirades.
    He asserts further:
    This has nothing to do with the US-supported color-coded revolutions in Eurasia. This is about Iran. An election was stolen in the United States in 2000 and Americans didn’t do a thing about it. Iranians are willing to die to have their votes counted. There is now an opening for a true Iranian people-power movement not specifically to the benefit of Mousavi, but with Mousavi as the catalyst in a wider struggle for real democratic legitimacy. The die is cast; now it’s people power against “divine assessment”.
    Pepe thinks that Rafsanjani and Mousavi are going to go for it.
    And it’s not true that Americans did nothing about the stolen election of 2000!
    They insisted on a “big” change of rhetoric eight years later before they gave a landslide victory to Bush III!

  16. The article by Flynt and Hillary Leverett recommended by Helena is the most sensible analysis I have read so far. Another interesting article is this one:
    “Wishful thinking from Tehran”
    and this one that touches on the class issues in the election:
    “Presidential Race Turns Into a Battle of Haves and Have-Nots”

  17. Maybe it’s time to change gear and consider what is more broadly at stake, including matters that could affect our pocket wherever we may be.
    The Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO) is meeting in Yekaterinburg, Russia, and Mahmoud Ahmedinejad arrived there today.
    I was watching an interview by Al Gurnov of the chief Russian diplomat at the SCO, Mr Leonid Moiseev, on RT last night. The SCO Presidents are all in Yekaterinburg and several guests are also there or expected, including Afghanistan, Brazil and India as well as Iran.
    One of the strategic goals of the SCO is to work down the monopolarity that has messed up the world economy, including by doing more trade denominated in currencies other than the US dollar. The main strategic purpose of the SCO is security, and most specifically anti-terrorism.

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