It's Saturday afternoon in Tehran, and the streets are generally quiet. But the aftermath of Iran's rigged election, in which radical-right President Ahmadinejad and his paramilitary backers were kept in office, has left Iran's capital steeped in anger, despair, and bitterness...
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.
Read the whole interview. It's quite disturbing. But here's the kicker:
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.
In all, there were about 45,000 polling places. There were 14,000 mobile ones, that can move from place to place. Many of us protested that. Originally, these mobile polling places were supposed to be used in hospitals and so on. This time, they were used in police stations, army bases, and various military compounds. When it comes to the military compounds and so on, if even 500 extra votes were put into each of the 14,000 boxes, that is seven million votes.
Mousavi and Karroubi had earlier established a joint committee to protect the peoples' votes. Many young people volunteered to work on that committee. But the authorities didn't let it happen. Last night [that is, election night] the security forces closed down that committee. There is no way, independent of the government and the Guardian Council, to verify the results.
Juan Cole has more on specific anomalies. This looks pretty clearly to be a rigged election. And now Ahmadinejad is talking about getting rid of the term limits on the presidency.
This makes everything even more complicated. You have in power an Israeli hard liner with an itchy trigger finger and an Iranian nutball without any legitimacy. It's a recipe for serious misjudgment.
Update: I was going to talk a bit about why this vote rigging was so obvious and then I came across this post by Kevin:
I was at a book party for Bob Wright's The Evolution of God last night, and even then it was obvious that the Interior Ministry was probably rigging the vote. One of the topics of conversation was: when autocracies decide to do something like this, why do they do it so clumsily? Why not give Ahmadinejad 52.7% of the vote, which would be at least within the realm of reason? Or force a runoff and let Ahmadinejad win a week from now? Why perpetrate such an obvious fraud?
Hard to say. Maybe it's just too hard to orchestrate something more believable. Maybe, against all evidence, they believe that smashing victories are always more convincing than close ones. Maybe it's just rank panic and stupidity. It's a mystery — and a counterproductive one, too: there isn't a person on the planet who thinks that Ahmadinejad could have won two-thirds of the vote with a turnout of 85%, and the possibility of inciting an internal revolt is a lot higher with a barefaced fraud like this than it would be with something a little more subtle.
On the other hand, maybe we're looking at this through the wrong lens. Obviously something about Mousavi started to badly spook the powers-that-be during the past week, and maybe they decided something needed to be done about it. Maybe they wanted to provoke a round of violence from Mousavi's supporters as an excuse to lead a crackdown on dissidents. And what better way to do that than to make the election rigging so obvious even a child could see it?
I think it's clearly the latter. Authoritarians need to demonstrate their power and one of the ways they do it by making openly ridiculous claims and daring anyone to prove otherwise. If dissidents try, they will be put down hard. This is how they make the population feel impotent and powerless: "Yeah, I stole the election, what are you going to do about it?"
If they can get the media to tell the citizens to "get over it" they will complete the process.