Fair Vote in Iran?

by Ali Meyer // Published June 15, 2009
In a country where 70% of the population is under 30, it is only logical (and mathematically probable) that a portion of the youth will be politically active. Despite egregiously low youth turnout in most Western countries, a significant number of Iran's youth galvanized themselves to demonstrate in favor of the moderate presidential candidate. On Friday, while the elections were taking place, rowdy and energetic young people invaded the streets of Tehran to support their candidate. According to Reuters, these demonstrations seemed to "resemble more a giant party than an election campaign." This proved to be a rare opportunity for young people to socialize with the opposite sex in public, which Iran bans. A teenager named Ashkan told Reuters that "for 80 percent…they only come out to have fun."

But, the election's aftermath turned out to be much less fun than many had likely anticipated. Amidst still-unproven claims of a rigged election, dedicated young protesters took to the streets to support their favored candidate, the moderate former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi. These protesters defied a ban that forbid them to actively protest, convinced they were in the right.

Mousavi himself shouted to protesters, "The vote of the people is more important than Mousavi or any other person!" They responded in turn, "Mousavi we support you! We will die but retrieve our votes!" and "Where are the 63 percent who voted for Ahmadinejad? If Ahmadinejad remains president we will protest every day."

Predictably, the protesters were faced with police officers armed with batons and violent Ahmadinejad supporters. Which is not to imply that the Mousavi supporters were themselves peaceful; they too contributed to the wreckage littering the streets of Tehran. About 3000 students at the University of Tehran began a dormitory demonstration, chanting "death to the dictator."

The protesters who believed that the vote was rigged have not rooted their opinions baselessly. On Saturday, Ayatollah Khamenei, who holds a disproportionate amount of power in the country, announced the victory of Ahmadinejad was not only fair, but "a divine intervention."

Bowed by international criticism about the fairness of the elections, Khamenei instructed the Guardians Council to investigate the legitimacy of the elections, something he earlier had declared was not necessary. The Council of the Guardians of the Constitution is made up of 12 conservative mullahs, the chairman of whom has openly backed Ahmadinejad. International agencies doubt that the Council's announcement in ten days will upset the current ruling.

Other agencies might have come up with different results, though. Historically, the Islamic Republic has never allowed a sitting President to be ousted by voters; this election seems to prove the apparently inevitable.

Such a record seems to suggest that some sort of voter fraud may have occurred. Critics cite the disenfranchising tactics of the Interior Ministry, which essentially ran the election, had originally announced that 51.2 million people were eligible to vote but by April had cut that number down to 46.2 million. In addition, the Guardians Council, which Ayatollah Khamenei has charged with investigating the fairness of the elections, disqualified over 4000 candidates in May, allowing only four to run for president-Ahmadinejad, Karoubi, a mullah, Rezai, a military man, and Mousavi, a technocrat.

But one of the more convincing tactics of the Interior Ministry was their outright rejection of a secret ballot; voters had to select their candidate under the hawkish eyes of election officers and groups of "toughs" supporting Ahmadinejad. If that sort of intimidation were not enough, the millions of illiterate voters in Iran had to depend on pro-Ahmadinejad militants and officials to help them mark their ballots.

To compound these indications of voter fraud is the website of the Interior Ministry. According to the Times Online, the website at times showed that more than 100 percent of eligible voters had participated. Plus, the numbers pertaining to areas dominated by ethnic minorities were changed four times on Saturday to illustrate a high turnout and widespread support for Ahmadinejad.

The electoral turmoil erupting in Iran is not something to be envied, and neither is the potential of rampant voter fraud. Iran will likely not soon become a democracy, or anything near a democracy as we know it, but the pernicious effects of the instated policies will hopefully alert the government enough to pursue even minor reforms.