Iranian election ‘a dangerous charade’

Tehran boiled over into rioting yesterday as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election by a thumping margin, and his moderate challenger rejected the vote as a “dangerous charade” that could lead to tyranny.

Despite the fears of a rigged election, the scale of Ahmadinejad’s victory – he took nearly twice as many votes as former Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi – upset widespread expectations that the race would at least go to a second round.

Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli said Ahmadinejad won 62.6% of the vote and Mousavi 33.7%. Turnout was a record 85%. Mousavi protested against what he said were many obvious violations.

“I’m warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade. The result will jeopardise the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny,” Mousavi said in a statement.

He had been due to hold a news conference, but police at the building turned journalists away, saying it was cancelled. Iranian and Western analysts abroad greeted the results with disbelief.

As violence took hold of the Iranian capital US strategic intelligence group Stratfor called the situation “potentially explosive”. Thousands of rival supporters of Ahmadinejad and Mousavi clashed in Tehran’s streets. Police were seen beating and kicking demonstrators. Up to 2000 Mousavi supporters then staged a sit-in in the middle of the road, clapping hands and chanting: “Mousavi take back our vote! What happened to our vote?”.

They also chanted at security forces: “Police, brother, you’re one of us”. Four police motorbikes were set on fire nearby the interior ministry.

Barricades of burning tyres were erected, and mobile phone services in the area were cut and access to foreign media websites was blocked.

Protesters clad in Mousavi’s campaign colour of green chanted “the government lied to the people” and threw missiles at the police in a series of violent pitched battles.

For the millions who supported Mousavi and yearned for change their hopes for now have been dashed, leaving Iran a divided and anxious country.

The election’s outcome is a severe blow to President Barack Obama’s policy of forging a new relationship between the US and Iran. Throughout the first four years of his presidency Ahmadinejad made a point of attacking the west, especially the US, and his defiance became a campaign issue that obviously resonated with the electorate.

“The president has always made it clear he will deal with any winning candidate but this is not the outcome he would have wanted,” said a US diplomatic source. “The nuclear issue remains unresolved and difficult days could lie ahead. But we have to remember, too, that nothing is decided policy-wise without the approval of the ayatollahs.”

Everything in the Iranian election was on a grand scale. Over 45,000 polling booths were in use and the high turnout of voters was described by election commission chief Kamran Daneshjou as being “unprecedented”. Throughout the country on Friday there was a sense of excitement that was lacking four years ago, when voters stayed away in droves and allowing Ahmadinejad to come to power on a ticket pledging to revive the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

This time he faced a more serious challenge. Ranged against him were three candidates all of whom questioned the way he had run the country and demanded change. Mousavi was the most serious contender.

Even members of the Republic Guards supported him, although they had their own candidate in Mohsen Rehzaei, who is now a university academic. The fourth candidate was another liberal, Mahdi Karroubi, a cleric who has twice served as speaker and ran for president in 2005. Analysts say the split liberal vote played into the incumbent’s hands.

Up until a fortnight ago it looked as if the election was dead in the water and that Ahmadinejad was a shoo-in. Then, in a remarkable turnaround, a “velvet revolution” began with Mousavi’s supporters taking to the streets to support a change of direction in Iranian policies. From being a settled election a split appeared, with Ahmadinejad retaining his support in the poorer rural areas while losing support in the cities. There, a younger generation threw in their lot with Mousavi, who took the unprecedented step of involving his wife Zahra Rahnavard, a prominent academic and artist in the election process.

Her public appearances were electrifying and brought women’s rights centre stage in the election. It was a smart move because there are more female than male voters in Iran. Suddenly, women’s position in Iranian society, a subject long-ignored in the traditional, male-dominated society, became a central campaign issue.

Other issues that dominated the election process were equally contentious. Iran has not been immune from the economic slowdown, inflation and unemployment have both been high and few have managed to escape the effects of the global recession.

This too provided clues as to voting patterns. Ahmadinejad placed the blame on western capitalism but Mousavi’s supporters countered that the government rewarded its supporters with jobs while denying them to the opposition.


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