A mass rally in Azadi (Freedom) square
in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 15, 2009
after claims of election fraud.

Iranian Elections Spur Protests, Violence and Confusion About the Future

June 15, 2009 04:22 PM
by Rachel Balik
After Iran’s incumbent president declared victory over his reformist opponent, observers claimed the election was rigged and protestors took to the streets.

Accusations of a Tainted Election Leave a Country in Turmoil

On Monday, June 15, Mir Hossein Moussavi appeared at a rally in Tehran; it was his first public appearance since accusing his opponent, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, of rigging the June 12 presidential election in Iran. Moussavi urged his followers to pursue legal means of investigating the election. Meanwhile, a pro-government militia fired on the crowd, killing one.

Leaders from around the globe have implied that they are also suspicious of election results, but have refrained from making an official statement challenging Ahmadinejad’s presidency. Analysts says that the 85 percent voter turnout should have meant a closer election, but according to The New York Times, Ahmadinejad indicated that he would make negotiations with the Western countries more difficult if they did not “swallow” the election results.

Political scientist and presidential supporter Kaveh Afrasiabi said the results appeared suspicious because public opinion in Tehran is not representative of the rest of the country. Afrasiabi told CNN that 75 percent of voters live in rural areas, and that most of them support Ahmadinejad.

However, analyst Suzanne Maloney of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy told NPR that such an explanation was possible, but it was unlikely “that two-thirds of the voting public supported Ahmadinejad.”

The Guardian Council, an Iranian political monitoring body, declared that “the election was the cleanest in the 30-year history” of the country’s democracy, but it has agreed to investigate.

Opinion & Analysis: Was the Election Rigged?

In an interview with the Council on Foreign Relations, Iran expert Gary G. Sick argued that there was no way the number of voters reported could have led to Ahmadinejad’s victory. He added that the immediate shutting down of social media sites after results were announced is further evidence that the government response “had to be planned, they had to be organized.”

According to the Charlotte Observer, the government cut off text messaging and e-mail access when results were announced, Web sites of Ahmadinejad’s opponents were hacked and news organizations were banned. Iranians have retained access to Twitter, however, and used it to report on protests and the general climate in Iran. The Observer provides a list of Twitter feeds offering coverage.

Time magazine reports that some voters in Tehran claim that text messaging was disabled even before the voting process was over. Additionally, some of the numbers reported failed to make logical sense, such as Ahmadinejad winning in big cities, and in Moussavi’s hometown.

Even if these accusations are true, Sick told CFR, there is little that Western nations can do to get involved. He said that this marks Iran’s transformation from an Islamic republic to a dictatorship.

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Key Players: Mir Houssaid Moussavi and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad

The main appeal of Mir Houssein Moussavi (also spelled Mousavi) comes from his reformist platform, writes Al-Jazeera. A former prime minister, he took a 20-year break from politics to pursue careers in art and architecture. He said that he was returning to politics with fresh eyes, and while he hoped to foster better relations with the United States, his views were similar to his opponents on the matters on Israel and nuclear weapons. His main critiques of his opponent were that he is mismanaging the economy and that he is on his way to becoming a dictator.

A profile of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the New Yorker also suggests that his government is approaching a dictatorship. He is also unafraid to set himself against Western popular opinion, openly defying the United States, challenging the existence of the Holocaust and defending his right to censor the media.

Reference: Iran and the Presidency

All the presidential candidates went through a screening process supervised by the Guardian Council. Out of roughly 500 people who applied, only four were selected. Once elected, the president must answer to the Guardian Council and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the cleric who holds the title of Supreme Leader.

The Library of Congress Portal to the World provides a comprehensive overview of Iran, including demographics and political and cultural information.

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