The Guardian: Iran’s presidential election was hit by fresh ballot-rigging allegations last night as voters chose between a veteran establishment candidate and a hardliner promising to restore the values of the Islamic revolution. The head of the central electoral committee called on Tehran’s provincial governor to suspend balloting amid claims of violations and abuses. But voting was extended by at least two hours.
Robert Tait in Tehran
Iran’s presidential election was hit by fresh ballot-rigging allegations last night as voters chose between a veteran establishment candidate and a hardliner promising to restore the values of the Islamic revolution.
The head of the central electoral committee called on Tehran’s provincial governor to suspend balloting amid claims of violations and abuses. But voting was extended by at least two hours.
The call for a suspension came after aides to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the centrist former president, accused supporters of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardline Tehran mayor, of systematic violations. The controversy reignited charges levelled at Mr Ahmadinejad after he unexpectedly came second in last week’s first round, qualifying for yesterday’s run-off.
Mohsen Vaheb, chairman of Mr Rafsanjani’s campaign in Tehran province, accused the basij, a militant volunteer force, and the revolutionary guards of trying to skew the results in Mr Ahmadinejad’s favour.
“We know they are ballot rigging,” he told the Guardian.
“We are receiving reports that the basij and revolutionary guards are involved in ballot rigging and cheating. There’s a probability that ballot boxes in at least two mosques in Tehran will be annulled.
“They have also been making propaganda for Ahmadinejad and that’s forbidden. The law states that in the last 24 hours before polls open, you are not allowed to issue publicity for candidates.”
The accusations were backed up by the interior ministry, which is nominally in charge of the election and which described the breaches as “beyond the minor stage”.
“Some people are trying to damage the election,” Jahanbakhsh Khanjani, a ministry spokesman, told Ilna, an Iranian news agency.
“In some mosques [serving as polling stations”>, there are classes labelled cultural meetings, training courses or charity gatherings which are illegal. Under election law, where a ballot box is present, such meetings should be suspended.”
The complaints were also backed up by an interior ministry poll inspector who spoke to the Guardian but who did not want to be named.
Having been assigned to a polling station at Rasoul mosque in south Tehran which was identified as a centre of possible ballot rigging by Mr Rafsanjani’s supporters, the inspector said he had seen blank voting papers being stamped by officials even before polls opened.
Normally, a ballot paper should only be stamped after being assigned to a voter whose identity had been verified.
“Once a ballot paper is stamped, you can do anything with it,” he said. “We reported it but the whole thing is controlled by the guardian council. The guardian council watchdogs [poll monitors”> are all members of the basij and revolutionary guards.
“If we complain to the guardian council watchdogs, we just get insulted. We are told to mind our own business. The whole thing is a conspiracy.”
Asghar Ahmadi, a member of Mr Ahmadinejad’s campaign team, dismissed the ballot rigging allegations. “They are just speculations,” he said.
“We are only here to watch. We do not interfere.”
Populist, pious and presidential?
He has been called pious, populist and proper, yet until little more than a week ago, no one thought him presidential.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 49, is seen as a champion of the poor, a modest man who drives his own car and has governed Tehran for two years as mayor with zealous austerity.
As president, he promises a sharp departure from the social freedoms that flourished during Muhammad Khatami’s presidency: as mayor he has spearheaded a social crackdown, riling secular Iranians.
Some fear his presidency will turn the clock back to a time when women had to dress conservatively and couples could not fraternise in public. But away from the metropolis, Mr Ahmedinejad’s clean image and ascetic, working-class credentials are popular in a country where unemployment is rife.
As mayor of Tehran, he has also sought to improve local services and upgrade a chaotic traffic system.
A former military figure, he has also pledged to step up efforts to counter western “decadence” within Iran’s Islamic society.
One of seven children, he joined the hardcore revolutionary guards in 1986 after volunteering to serve in the war with Iraq.
His Islamic credentials are said to be beyond challenge. He was co-founder of the Islamic Society of Students, and has been an instructor for the Basij, the youth volunteer organisation that enforces the Islamic republic’s strict religious mores.