Iran’s political coup

Iran’s political coup

If the reports coming out of Tehran about an electoral coup are sustained, then Iran has entered an entirely new phase of its post-revolution history. One characteristic that has always distinguished Iran from the crude dictators in much of the rest of the Middle East was its respect for the voice of the people, even when that voice was saying things that much of the leadership did not want to hear.

In 1997, Iran’s hard line leadership was stunned by the landslide election of Mohammed Khatami, a reformer who promised to bring rule of law and a more human face to the harsh visage of the Iranian revolution. It took the authorities almost a year to recover their composure and to reassert their control through naked force and cynical manipulation of the constitution and legal system. The authorities did not, however, falsify the election results and even permitted a resounding reelection four years later. Instead, they preferred to prevent the president from implementing his reform program.

In 2005, when it appeared that no hard line conservative might survive the first round of the presidential election, there were credible reports of ballot manipulation to insure that Mr Ahmadinejad could run (and win) against former president Rafsanjani in the second round. The lesson seemed to be that the authorities might shift the results in a close election but they would not reverse a landslide vote.

The current election appears to repudiate both of those rules. The authorities were faced with a credible challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, who had the potential to challenge the existing power structure on certain key issues. He ran a surprisingly effective campaign, and his “green wave” began to be seen as more than a wave. In fact, many began calling it a Green Revolution. For a regime that has been terrified about the possibility of a “velvet revolution,” this may have been too much. [continued…]

Political coup

In an interview, Mr. Mohsen Makhbalbaf, the distinguish movie director and spokesman for Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi, has declared that there has been a coup in Iran whereby the elections have been rigged, and people’s vote have been altered on a vast scale, in order to declare President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the “victor.”

According to Mr. Makhbalbaf, in the early hours after voting had ended, the Interior Ministry had called Mr. Mousavi’s campaign headquarters to inform them that Mr. Mousavi would be the winner and, therefore, Mr. Mousavi must prepare a victory statement. Mr. Mousavi was, however, asked by the Ministry not to boast too much, in order not to upset Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters. Many of the president’s supporters are among the ranks of the Basij militia, and thus armed.

According to Mr. Makhbalbaf, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was also informed of the developments. He also recommended a “good management” of the victory statement, meaning not boasting greatly about the victory, because that would be in Iran’s national interests and stability.

At the same time, the reformist newspapers were also informed that they can prepare their Saturday edition to declare Mr. Mousavi the winner, but were not allowed to use the word pirouzi (victory) in their articles, in order not to upset Mr. Ahmadinejad’s supporters. One reformist newspaper prepared its front page with the title, “People took back the flag of their country [from Mr. Ahmadinejad].” [continued…]

What Ahmadinejad’s win means for Iran, Israel and the United States

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 program for enriching uranium and, potentially, building nuclear weapons. And Israelis see that program 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 program.

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 A.Q. 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. [continued…]

Faulty election data

Iran’s Interior Ministry has declared President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad the winner of yesterday’s election. This has been rejected by all the three opponents of Mr. Ahmadinejad, Messrs Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mahdi Karroubi, and Mohsen Rezaaee.

The best evidence for the validity of the arguments of the three opponents of the President for rejecting the results declared by the Interior Ministry is the data the Ministry itself has issued. In the chart below, compiled based on the data released by the Ministry and announced by Iran’s national television, a perfect linear relation between the votes received by the President and Mir Hossein Mousavi has been maintained, and the President’s vote is always half of the President’s. The vertical axis (y) shows Mr. Mousavi’s votes, and the horizontal (x) the President’s. R^2 shows the correlation coefficient: the closer it is to 1.0, the more perfect is the fit, and it is 0.9995, as close to 1.0 as possible for any type of data. [continued…]

No new president – but a new red line for negotiations?

Israel’s leaders and the hawks within the Obama administration will have breathed a sigh of relief as the returns from Iran’s presidential election pointed to a decisive win for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They had feared that a win by his chief rival, the more pragmatic Mir-Hossein Mousavi, would have made it more difficult to rally international support for sanctions against Iran – after all, it’s a lot easier to brand a country as a rising menace when its president is a sabre-rattling provocateur than when he is a soft-spoken, reasonable conciliator. An editorial in the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot on election day put it bluntly: “Mousavi is bad for Israel.”

The election turned largely on domestic issues, primarily the economy. Mr Mousavi ran against Mr Ahmadinejad’s mismanagement; Mr Ahmadinejad portrayed himself as a friend of the poor fighting an entrenched, self-serving political elite. A victory for the challenger would certainly have changed the climate in which negotiations with the West are handled, and eased the path of diplomacy. It would not, however, have altered the basic shape of the stalemate. Both candidates were committed to continuing Iran’s nuclear programme, which they insist is purely for peaceful purposes.

The Obama administration’s planned outreach is directed more at the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, than at the president. And it is accompanied by US efforts to ratchet up sanctions, because the administration’s Iran policy chief, Dennis Ross, believes that diplomacy must be backed by intensified threats if it is to succeed. That position would not have changed even if Mr Mousavi had won. [continued…]

Obama administration officials say efforts to engage Iran will move forward

The Obama administration is determined to press on with efforts to engage the Iranian government, senior officials said Saturday, despite misgivings about irregularities in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The White House’s cautious reaction reflected the combustible scene in Tehran, where riot police officers were cracking down on angry opposition supporters, and the likelihood that the administration would be forced to pursue its diplomatic initiative with a familiar and implacable foe, one who now also has a legitimacy problem.

“We, like the rest of the world, are waiting and watching to see what the Iranian people decide,” Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a visit to Niagara Falls, Ontario, on Saturday. “We obviously hope the outcome reflects the genuine will and desire of the Iranian people.” [continued…]

The election in a nutshell

Iran’s rancorous presidential election took a completely unexpected turn. All indications were that Mr. Mir Hossein Mousavi would win in a landslide, including the following: Fierce competition between the reformist and conservative camps, accusations of corruption and nepotism, disputed statistics cited by President Mahmoud Ahamadinejad on the state of Iran’s economy, and being called a liar for it by Mousavi, the main reformist candidate who also strongly criticized Iran’s foreign policy and international standing under Mr. Ahmadinejad.

In the last week of the campaign nearly 40 independent polls had all reached the same conclusion: that Mr. Mousavi’s vote would be at least twice that of Mr. Ahmadinejad. The best evidence supporting the polls was huge rallies held around the nation in which tens of thousands of people participated in support of Mr. Mousavi. But, the rallies had also frightened the hard-liners who have been terrified by the prospect of a “velvet revolution.” Indeed, Brigadier General Yadollah Javani, the political director of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRI), which is the backbone of the armed forces, had warned on Wednesday that the Guards consider the rallies and their symbolic color, green, as part of a plan for a colorful revolution, and will not allow that to happen. [continued…]

Iran’s ex-foreign minister Yazdi: It’s a coup

To get some perspective on the crisis, today I went to see Ibrahim Yazdi, a leading Iranian dissident and Iran’s foreign minister in the early days of Islamic republic. Here is the text of the interview:

What is your reaction to the results of the election?

Many of us believe that the election was rigged. Not only Mousavi. We don’t have any doubt. And as far as we are concerned, it is not legitimate.

There were many, many irregularities. They did not permit the candidates to supervise the election or the counting of the ballots at the polling places. The minister of the interior announced that he would oversee the final count in his office, at the ministry, with only two aides present.

In previous elections, they announced the results in each district, so people could follow up and make a judgment about the validity of the figures. In 2005, there were problems: in one district there were about 100,000 eligible voters, and they announced a total vote of 150,000. This time they didn’t even release information about each particular district. [continued…]

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