New York Times: The race for the presidency in Iran was thrown into turmoil on Saturday when one of the top vote getters accused conservative hard-liners of rigging the election and threatened to continue to press his case publicly unless the country’s supreme leader ordered an independent investigation – a bold move in a country that does not generally tolerate such forms of public dissent.
New York Times
By MICHAEL SLACKMAN
TEHRAN – The race for the presidency in Iran was thrown into turmoil on Saturday when one of the top vote getters accused conservative hard-liners of rigging the election and threatened to continue to press his case publicly unless the country’s supreme leader ordered an independent investigation – a bold move in a country that does not generally tolerate such forms of public dissent.
The accusation by Mehdi Karroubi, a cleric known as a conciliator, not a troublemaker, threw an element of confusion and uncertainty into the race, just as the authorities were hoping to finalize the election results, announce plans for a runoff and point to the outcome as a validation of this country’s religion-based system of government.
The Interior Ministry issued what it said were unofficial final results on Saturday evening, saying the former two-term president, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, would face off against the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was unclear what effect the accusations of fraud would have on the planned vote.
An element of the bizarre was added to the whole affair because Mr. Ahmadinejad, who had hovered at the back of the field of candidates in pre-election opinion surveys, announced hours before the ministry issued its own results that he would be in the runoff.
The government did not immediately respond to the charges of vote tampering, but the cloud had been hanging over the race since the early morning hours when the Interior Ministry found its results being publicly contradicted on state television by the Guardian Council, the panel controlled by hard-line clerics that has the ultimate say over all government actions. It has, for example, the power to unilaterally reject the outcome of the election.
Initially, the Interior Ministry had Mr. Rafsanjani first, Mr. Karroubi second and Mr. Ahmadinejad third. Half an hour later the Guardian Council, which is not supposed to be involved in counting ballots, said Mr. Ahmadinejad was in first place.
Apparently hoping to head off an embarrassing public split, the departing president, Mohammad Khatami, visited the site where the ballots were being counted in the morning and offered words of assurance.
“All our efforts have been to hold a healthy election and to protect peoples votes,” Mr. Khatami said in comments broadcast on national news. “I have come here to thank officials at the Interior Ministry and to make sure votes are being counted very carefully. If anyone has made any other comments it is not right.”
But the effort failed as Mr. Karroubi’s charges were also echoed by aides to Dr. Mostafa Moin, the reform candidate who came in fifth after public opinion polls had shown him vying for second place. While Dr. Moin’s aides did not want to be identified, for fear of reprisal, they leveled charges similar to those made by Mr. Karroubi, who accused the Guardian Council and the Revolutionary Guard of trying to rig the election.
“There have been interferences, they have paid money,” Mr. Karroubi said as he called on the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to set up an independent body to investigate the administration and outcome of the election.
In declaring himself a candidate in the runoff, Mr. Ahmadinejad dismissed Mr. Karroubi’s charges as words from a sore loser. He said that Mr. Karroubi should watch the way he talks because he is a cleric, and that his charges were “not correct.”
“It is very obvious that the one who has lost would protest now,” Mr. Ahmadinejad said. “I expect Mr. Karroubi, who is a cleric and wears sacred clothes, to make his comments with more intention.”
When voters went to cast their ballots on Friday, public opinion polls, which are conducted by government-controlled agencies, showed Mr. Rafsanjani in first place with Dr. Moin and the former police chief, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, competing for second. But the results confounded the expectations.
“It is very strange,” Hermidas Davoud Bavand, a professor of international law at Alameh University in Tehran, said of the results. “As far as guesswork and assumptions and taking into consideration the popularity of the candidates, nobody predicted this.”
In trying to explain their come-from-nowhere successes, analysts said it appeared that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s candidacy came to represent the conservative movement’s last stand in its effort to hold back a society moving increasingly toward more liberal ideas, while Mr. Karroubi’s appeal was more pragmatic: He offered to give $60 a month to every Iranian if elected.
The offer of cash was dismissed by the political elite and urban intellectuals as a silly ploy to win votes – but may well have been embraced by the rural poor, whose concerns are focused on having the means to feed and clothe their families, and not necessarily on the ideological direction of the country, political analysts said.
“Fifty or 60 dollars a month can make a big difference to a family with four or five kids,” said Ahmad Zeidabadi, a political analyst in Tehran. “These families figure if he keeps his promise, great, and if not, he is like the rest of them.”
But others saw a dark hand in the election process. An aide to Dr. Moin said their campaign had information that representatives of the Guardian Council who only were supposed to monitor polling places got involved in counting ballots. Mr. Karroubi was more specific in his charges, saying that money was paid in certain cities to encourage people to vote a certain way, and that the authorities actually pressured people to vote for the candidates supported by the hard-line religious leaders.
“I think some of the power bases have changed the decision,” he said at his news conference. “I have documents. I can show tapes to prove there have been speeches to make people to vote for certain candidates.”
The Guardian Council also tried to inject itself into the calculation of how many voters turned out to the polls. The nation’s conservative religious leaders point to voter turn out as validation for Iran’s blended system of government, and were eager to see huge numbers flock to the polls. Many people had said they planned to boycott the election to deny the system a boost of credibility.
The Interior Ministry said that 28.8 million votes were counted, with a turnout of almost 62 percent, and that Mr. Rafsanjani came in first with 6 million votes, Mr. Ahmadinejad was second with 5.5 million and Mr. Karroubi was third with 5.3 million.
But the Guardian Council announced Saturday morning that turnout was nearly 70 percent.
Mr. Khatami, whose eight years in office were defined in part by his reluctance to publicly confront the state’s hard-line overseers, kept to that path on Saturday during his visit to the Interior Ministry while the ballots were being counted. When asked by Iranian reporters about the difference between the vote tallies of the Guardian Council and the Interior Ministry, Mr. Khatami said: “Eventually they should be exactly the same. One or 2 percent is not important.”
Nazila Fathi contributed reporting for this article.