Iran Focus: Tehran, Iran, Jun. 13 – The main rival to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential elections cried foul on Saturday as questions emerged over vote-rigging at the Interior Ministry.
Tehran, Iran, Jun. 13 – The main rival to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Iran's presidential elections cried foul on Saturday as questions emerged over vote-rigging at the Interior Ministry.
Ahmadinejad faced three challengers: former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Moussavi, former Majlis (Parliament) Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, and Brigadier General Mohsen Rezai who for 16 years headed the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).
The election commission announced that after counting 80% of the votes, Ahmadinejad had won 64%, while primary challenger Moussavi received just 32%.
Moussavi on Saturday said: "I personally strongly protest the many obvious violations and I'm warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade. The result of such performance by some officials will jeopardise the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny".
His campaign HQ has been sealed off by police on Saturday. At a press conference before midnight on Friday, Moussavi declared himself "definitely the winner".
He accused the government of "manipulating the people's vote" to keep Ahmadinejad in power and suggested the reformist camp would stand up to challenge the results. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of counting votes, operates under Ahmadinejad.
The Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps cautioned Wednesday it would crush any "revolution" against the Islamic regime in the course of the elections.
The Communications Ministry says it has cut off SMS text messaging since Wednesday evening. Internet lines were also slow in responding on Friday.
Moussavi's paper, Kalemeh Sabz, or the Green Word, and other reformist dailies were ordered to change their headlines originally declaring Moussavi the victor, according to editors at the papers, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue. The papers had blank spots where articles were removed.
Moussavi appealed to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to intervene and stop what he said were violations of the law. Khamenei holds ultimate political authority in Iran. "I hope the leader's foresight will bring this to a good end", Moussavi said. He claimed some polling stations were closed early and his observers were expelled from some counting sites.
About a dozen Ahmadinejad supporters pelted a Moussavi office in Tehran with tear gas canisters, but no one was injured, said Saeed Shariati, head of Moussavi's Web campaign. The attack could not be independently confirmed.
Radical cleric Hamid Rasaii, a hard-line MP from Tehran late on Friday warned that anyone who opposed the official results would be "removed from Iran's history".
Karroubi's campaign team meanwhile on Saturday claimed the election process was "murky", but added that there was nothing they could do to change the result.
In Paris, Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi on Saturday announced: "More than 85 percent of the 51.2 million eligible voters boycotted the mullahs' sham presidential election". She said the real turnout was 7.5 million.
Rajavi, who heads the National Council of Resistance of Iran, said: "Popular street protests especially by young people were more than anything an expression of opposition to [the] regime. … The reappointment of Ahmadinejad as the mullahs' president would result in a sudden rise in suppression of opponents, widespread internal purge and factional feuding within the regime, redoubling of efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, rise in export of terrorism and fundamentalism, further meddling in Iraq and incitement of conflict in the region".
United States President Barack Obama on Friday said: "We are excited to see what appears to be a robust debate taking place in Iran. … Whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways".
The US ambassador to the United Nations on Friday warned that Washington's policy regarding the Islamic Republic's nuclear program would not depend on who becomes president in Iran. "Our view is that Iran, the Islamic Republic of Iran, ought to not pursue its nuclear program, its nuclear weapons program and that will not change depending on the outcome of the election", Ambassador Susan Rice told reporters at the White House.
Iran does not allow international election monitors. In the 2005 presidential contest, Karroubi accused the Revolutionary Guards of rigging votes in Ahmadinejad's favour. He vowed on Thursday not to sleep until polling was over "in order to prevent any foul play at the last minute" by the Ahmadinejad camp.
Iran's ruling clerics put their stamp on the elections from the very beginning by deciding who can run. More than 470 people sought to join the presidential race, but only Ahmadinejad and three top former officials were cleared.
Supreme Leader Khamenei had on at least three occasions, and as early as last week, indirectly supported Ahmadinejad, raising further doubts about how the voting process would go. The Supreme Leader has the final say on all state matters.
The three presidential challengers have argued that Ahmadinejad's mismanagement of the economy had cause record high inflation and unemployment.
As polling began, state media quoted Ahmadinejad as saying that it was against the laws of the Islamic Republic to smear the President. He warned that those who had done so during the election campaigning would be prosecuted "once I become president again".
Friday's vote had been preceded in earlier days by unprecedented exposures of high-level corruption by the four candidates in the course of nightly televised debates. In the debate between Ahmadinejad and Moussavi, the incumbent president claimed that former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani were helping Moussavi to unseat him. He also accused Rafsanjani's sons of major embezzlement. Some analysts believe that Ahmadinejad had the endorsement and backing of Supreme Leader Khamenei in making the remarks.
Rafsanjani, who now heads the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council, wrote an open letter to Khamenei on Tuesday, warning of "social upheavals of volcanic proportions" unless Ahmadinejad was dealt with. He urged the supreme leader to "extinguish the fire, the smoke of which had already been detected" and "prevent the eruption of fiery crises" during the election and in its aftermath. He also reminded Khamenei that Ahmadinejad's charges against previous administrations of mismanagement of the economy and involvement in embezzlements were concerning a period in which Khamenei himself was either president or supreme leader, thereby undermining the regime in its entirety.
Rafsanjani claimed that Ahmadinejad's remarks were fuelled by an earlier speech by Khamenei in the north-eastern city of Mashhad. He accused Ahmadinejad of bringing up the charges in order to overshadow the disappearance of $1 billion from his administration and thousands of other cases of mishandling of the budget.
The Fars news agency, affiliated to the office of the supreme leader, in a lengthy report on Tuesday exposed major embezzlements by Rafsanjani and his allies. The report described Rafsanjani's family as the "mafia of wealth and power," and "Excellencies of the Mafia". It warned that if the Rafsanjani faction wins the election then "the country will end up on a downward trend and national interest will be threatened". The report accused Rafsanjani and his allies of charges including establishing "complete control over the country's life line in areas such as the industry, money circulation, energy sector, export and import of goods, and housing".
Some analysts, who anticipate vote rigging, believe that the elections are a staging ground of a major feud between the two highest figures of the Islamic Republic, Khamenei and Rafsanjani. "If Khamenei secures a win for Ahmadinejad, then we can be sure of a hardening of the regime's stance against the people [in Iran] and the international community", said one Tehran analyst.
Fars reported late on Friday that Ahmadinejad's reappointment would lead to "major purges" within the ruling elite.
With contributions from wire reports