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Shots fired at huge Iran protest

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BBC Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba looks at the key questions in the wake of the county’s bitterly contested presidential election result.

What is the evidence of electoral fraud?

The way the result was announced was very unusual.

Usually, in all previous elections, the vote came in and was announced province by province.

Composite pic of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (l) and Mir Hossein Mousavi

Neither of the leading candidates appears ready to diffuse the situation

In this case, the results came in blocks of millions of votes – in percentages of the vote.

As these blocks of votes came in, the percentages going to each candidate changed very, very little.

This appears to suggest that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did equally well in rural and urban areas. Conversely, it suggests that the other three losing candidates did equally badly in their home regions and provinces.

This overturns all precedent in Iranian politics. We know Mr Ahmadinejad is very popular in rural areas and unpopular in the big cities.

We also know that in areas where there are regional and national minorities, anti-establishment candidates tend to do very well. Candidates always tend to carry their home provinces. Not this time.

No explanation, despite repeated questions, has been given by the authorities for any of this.

It is all very suspicious. But it does not necessarily mean there has been widespread electoral fraud.

How organised is the opposition to Ahmadinejad?

Mir Hossein Mousavi has no organisation to speak of. Before he declared his candidacy for the presidential elections he had been in semi-retirement for more than 20 years.

However, the three main reformist organisations backed him for this election. He does not lead these groups.

These are highly organised and well supported – they constitute a kind of organised opposition.

They are very popular among the young and among students, and can mobilise thousands using the internet and other means.

I expect protests to continue – the reformist groupings have issued a statement saying there has been a coup d’etat.

Does Iran’s Supreme Leader support Mahmoud Ahmadinejad fully?

Iranian politics is opaque, but as far as we can tell Mr Ahmadinejad has the wholehearted backing of the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: 62.6%
Mir Hossein Mousavi: 33.8%
Mohsen Rezai: 1.7%
Mehdi Karroubi 0.9%
Turnout: 85%
Source: Interior ministry

Before the election, the Supreme Leader repeatedly backed the president, saying he was the best president the country has had since the revolution and his foreign policy was right.

Nothing has happened during the campaign or since the result was announced to suggest a change.

Ayatollah Khamenei was very quick to welcome the result of the vote – though he has since called on the Guardian Council to investigate thoroughly the claims of vote rigging.

Is the Supreme Leader’s position or credibility under threat at all?

Ayatollah Khamenei’s credibility may be under threat.

A leading and respected cleric, Mohsen Kadivar, has questioned why the Supreme Leader welcomed the election result so quickly, before it had been legally ratified by the Guardian Council.

Ayatollah Khamenei has been widely criticised for being too close to Mr Ahamdinejad. The Supreme Leader is meant to remain above the fray and above factional politics.

What next? Can the confrontation be defused?

The Guardian Council has 10 days to decide whether to ratify the result of the election or to call another vote. It has asked the losing candidates to provide evidence of electoral fraud.

So there are legal means to reverse the situation.

But this would be a massive upheaval and a great defeat for the president and the Supreme Leader – so it’s very unlikely.

This said, I can’t see the demonstrations dying down. They are more likely to gain momentum and spread as people are angered by the clampdown.

The Supreme Leader is above the law and he may decree a compromise. He may argue that Islam or the country is under threat.

Iranian society is very, very polarised – economically, socially, by gender on religious grounds – and this is what we are seeing. Frankly, this sort of angry protest was to be expected whichever way the election went.









Written by Lwin Aung Soe

June 15, 2009 at 5:36 pm

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