The Guardian: Iran’s presidential election was thrown into uncharted territory yesterday after a hardline candidate who unexpectedly won his way into a run-off vote was accused of ballot-rigging.
Dispute over conservative who won place in run-off vote
Robert Tait in Tehran
Iran’s presidential election was thrown into uncharted territory yesterday after a hardline candidate who unexpectedly won his way into a run-off vote was accused of ballot-rigging.
The allegations against the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 49, came not only from losing candidates in Friday’s first round, but also from aides to the frontrunner, the pragmatic cleric and former president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Mr Rafsanjani’s suspicions have intensified the controversy surrounding Mr Ahmadinejad’s surprise showing. He confounded pollsters to capture nearly 20% of the vote. Mr Rafsanjani polled 21%. The mayor, a former revolutionary guard commander, wants to reinforce Iran’s strict Islamic code.
Mr Rafsanjani’s aides say Mr Ahmadinejad may have stuffed ballot boxes, bought votes and used improper influence on the guardian council, the religious watchdog overseeing the election.
“We are suspicious. We feel that he was not so popular as to gain this number of votes,” said Amir Mohseni, deputy head of Mr Rafsanjani’s campaign in Tehran.
“We are trying to build up evidence. We are interviewing voters and trying to get information from official sources, such as the guardian council and the interior ministry. Under the law, we are able to present complaints against the procedure of the election and we are going to take that opportunity.”
Mr Rafsanjani’s campaign managers fear that such abuses – if true – may be repeated in this Friday’s run-off. The campaign’s complaints bolster those of Mehdi Karroubi, a moderate cleric who finished third, and the leading reformist, Mostafa Moin, who came fifth after a campaign in which many of his supporters were attacked and beaten by religious vigilantes.
Analysts also expressed deep scepticism. “I cannot believe that Ahmadinejad won 5.7m votes,” one commentator said. “I think he got one million extra votes from somewhere. I have serious doubts about these results.”
Mr Karroubi, who had seemed poised during Saturday’s count to finish second after a populist promise to pay every Iranian £30 to alleviate poverty, said: “Money has changed hands.
“I see this election as being rigged. Some people affiliated to the revolutionary guards and some others exercise influence over the guardian council. I want them to sue me, so I would be able to expose their names in my defence.”
Mr Moin’s Islamic Iran Participation Front accused the guardian council of funding an £8m campaign to mobilise 300,000 Islamic militias to ensure a hardliner’s success.
“Take seriously the danger of fascism,” Mr Moin said. “Such creeping and complex attempts will eventually lead to militarism, authoritarianism as well as social and political suffocation in the country.”
Critics pointed to other irregularities, including Mr Ahmadinejad’s announcement on Saturday that he would be in the run-off, hours before official results were issued. Mr Ahmadinejad dismissed the claims. “I would expect a respected cleric to be more tolerant and accurate,” he said of Mr Karroubi.
The interior ministry said 62% of Iran’s 47 million voters had taken part in the poll. There were 1.2m spoiled ballots – a high number that may reflect widespread disenchantment with the Islamic system in a country where public-sector employees are obliged to vote and get an electoral stamp in their identity booklets.
Mr Ahmadinejad’s young supporters in the Basij, the hardcore of volunteers which enforces Iran’s Islamic dress code and separation of the sexes, celebrated into the early hours yesterday, chanting slogans in the same Tehran parks where secular Iranians staged eve-of-poll parties.
Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, said yesterday during her tour of the Middle East that the election was not a serious step towards democracy: “Any election in which thousands of people are disqualified by fiat, and in which women are disqualified as a class, barely deserves to be given that title, particularly in a place that several years ago seemed to be moving in a different direction.”