Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

June 22, 2009


Because the American media likes to think in simple bipolar terms, it has neatly divided the Iran election issue into good guys vs. bad guys, ignoring possibilities such as that Ahmadinejad may have stolen votes but not enough to flip the results or that Mousavi's sorry record hardly suggests that he is a reformer. At present, the electoral evidence against Ahmadinejad - beyond vote manipulation well known to other countries such as the U.S. - is indecisive and election polls in the week prior to the vote conflicted widely. This is, in short, still an open case although the evidence is tending against Ahmadinejad. A few things to keep in mind:

- Ahmadinejad's vote margin is about the same as in his previous election.

- A number of areas reported more votes than were registered. Even the national Guardian Council admitted that there was an overvote in 50 cities. The Ahmadinejad crowd argues that this is possible because one doesn't have to vote in the place where one is registered. On the other hand, Mousavi says that 14 million unused ballots are missing, which clearly offers opportunities for fraud.

- If there was vote manipulation it would be apparent at the sub-national level. According to historian Juan Cole, says Wikipedia, "there were several anomalies in the election results. Official reports gave Ahmadinejad 57% of the vote in the city of Tabriz despite the fact that this was the capital of Moussavi's home province, Eastern Azerbaijan, where Moussavi's rallies were well attended and which has traditionally given good turnouts for even "minor presidential candidates" who came from the province. Ahmadinejad also won Tehran by over 50%, even though his popularity in larger cities is considered to be low."

- Both candidates offered similar foreign policies. Reported the BBC: "in foreign affairs, [Mousavi] seems to be offering little change on major issues." Mousavi, it appears, would be easier on the U.S.

- They differed, however, significantly on domestic matters. Notes Wikipedia, "Debates about the economy played the biggest role in the campaign, with the global economic recession looming in people's minds. About one in five Iranians live under the poverty line, inflation is at about 25 percent, and unemployment is at over 12.5 percent . . . Mousavi advocated further privatization of the economy towards a free market with a tight monetary policy in comparison to Ahmadinejad's populist fiscal policy, with Ahmadinejad making measures to fight poverty a key principle in his campaign. Mousavi drew his electoral base from the middle and upper classes while Ahmadinejad drew support from the urban poor and rural residents. Civil servants, police officers, pensioners, and others dependent on the government also contributed to Ahmadinejad's base. He made financial support from the business class against him into a theme of attack. BBC News described his campaign as "one that foresees the death of capitalism."

- In the week before the election, major polls were in massive conflict. Four had Ahmadinejad leading comfortably; five had him losing. Further, says Wikipedia, "The opinion polls in Iran have been considered unreliable. A number of polls conducted between relatively small voting groups, like university students and workers, have been reported as election propaganda. More general polls reported in the media do not state the polling organization nor the basic facts about the methodology. The results show a high variance and depend heavily on who is reporting the poll. In 2002, the polling organization Ayandeh and another polling organization was closed and its directors were arrested. The director of Ayandeh, Abbas Abdi, spent several years in prison. . .

"An independent poll, conducted by Terror Free Tomorrow: The Center for Public Opinion, a nonprofit institute that researches attitudes toward extremism, found that Ahmadinejad was leading by a margin of 2 to 1. 34% said they'd vote for Ahmadinejad, 14% favored Mousavi. . . The poll was taken from May 11 to May 20. . . Polling itself was funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Writing in the Washington Post, pollsters Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty have used this to suggest that Ahmadinejad's apparent victory might reflect the will of the Iranian people. . . " This poll was early in the campaign.

- Also from Wikipedia: "BBC Iranian affairs analyst Sadeq Saba found abnormalities in the way results were announced. Instead of results by province, the 'results came in blocks of millions of votes,' with very little difference between the blocks in the percentages going to each candidate. . . . Another anomaly, according to British-based researcher Ali Alizadeh, is that a large turnout did not favor the opposition, since in elections, both in Iran and abroad, 'those who usually don't vote, i.e. the silent majority, only come out when they want to change the status quo.'

- Wikipedia - "Blogger and statistician Nate Silver on June 13 wrote that a statistical analysis of the official results was ultimately inconclusive as far as determining that there was election fraud. On June 15, Silver posted regional results that he had received from a student of Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews, who had translated them from the original Farsi. He compared Ahmadinejad's 2009 results with the conservative candidates' results in the first round of the 2005 election (Ahmadinejad, Larijani and Ghalibaf), and found the results from certain provinces to be suspicious. While conservative candidates in Lorestan received only 20% in 2005, Ahmadinejad reportedly got 71% in 2009. In Tehran, on the other hand, the conservative vote was relatively speaking lower than in the previous election. Silver further compared the votes for Ahmadinejad only, and found the correlation between 2005 and 2009 to be "fairly weak". He did, however, warn against differences between the two elections and changes over time, and declined to make a judgment on the validity of the official result. Silver disagrees with claims that the mere size of the alleged fraud makes it unlikely, explaining that the lack of election monitors means that actual ballots did not need to be faked and hence fraud 'is simply a matter of changing numbers on a spreadsheet.'"

- Wikipedia - Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, CEO of STRATEGA, argue that Ahmadinejad got almost the same percentage of votes in this election as in the 2005 election where he received 61.69% and no claims of fraud were put foreward. They further suggest that the shock over the result is "self-generated" and due to "wishful thinking". They also point out that Ahmadinejad was seen by most Iranians as having won the nationally televised debates, especially the one with Mousavi. The Leveretts state that the notion that a high turnout would favor Mousavi is based on nothing more than assumptions. In response to the claim by some experts that Mousavi was more likely to have won in the Azeri majority provinces because of his Azeri background, they point out that Ahmadinejad speaks fluent Azeri as a result of his eight years of service as an official in two Azeri-majority provinces and that he during his campaigning quoted Azeri and Turkish poetry. . . .

- "On 21 June, Chatham House and Institute of Iranian Studies of the University of St. Andrews . . . compared voting results in the 2005 first round and 2009. In 10 provinces, Ahmadinejad could not have achieved his reported totals through retaining his own 2005 voters, winning every voter who voted for other conservatives in 2005, winning every Rafsanjani voter, and winning every single 2005 non-voter who turned out in 2009. He would also have get Reformist voters to defect to him.

- "Columbia University Ph.D. candidates Bernd Beber and Alexandra Scacco have released an analysis concluding that the digit patterns of the election results contain characteristics of human manipulation. The regional vote totals possess oddities including too many sevens in the last digits and too few fives, as well as too few non-adjacent digits. The authors of the report conclude that the chances of such a spread occurring naturally are only one chance in 200."


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June 23, 2009 3:36 AM  

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