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The election that wasn’t

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On Friday the middle eastern nation of Iran held presidential elections. The European Union blushes by the sheer record turnout of electorate. In this election 85% of 46.2 million Iranians eligible to vote went to the polls.

The incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a well known hardliner and religious conservative opposing the US and Europe on the fundamental issue of use of nuclear technology, was widely expected to be in a head to head race with his challengers. Most promising was Mir-Hussein Mousavi, who was the last prime minister of Iran before this post was abolished during the course of the Islamic Revolution and the establishment of theocratic rule of Grand Ayatollah Khomeini.

Mousavi managed to win over Iranian youth in an aspiring campaign that used modern technology like internet and cell phones very much like the Obama campaign in the US. Different polls during the campaign promised a close race between these two contenders. It was therefore surprising to learn in a somewhat hastily managed announcement late Friday night, that the incumbent has won with a wide margin.

The official results as declared by the Interior Ministry see Ahmadinejad with 62 percent of the vote and Mousavi with only 33 percent. In a first reaction the challenger claimed the elections a fraud late Friday night  The only official statement coming out of Mousavi’s camp so far is a letter where he strongly protests ‘the many obvious violations’ and warned that he would ‘not surrender to this dangerous charade’. In the meantime the supreme religious leader of Iran Khomeini has declared his support for Ahmadinejad and therefore sealed the election.

The obvious rush to declare the incumbent winner is of course strange and gives rise to many speculations. A close time-line of events late Friday night might shed some light on this issue. Al Jazeera takes a closer look at the hours between the final closing of the vote and the announcement of initial results.

Just when word from a first statement of the challenger made the round among journalists gathering at the Interior Ministry, Kamran Daneshjou, the election chief, was supposed to make an announcement at 11pm Iranian time late Friday night. Instead of the announcement rumor of a new lead story by Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA), the official government paper, made the round. The claim, Ahmadinejad has won strong support in the countryside, lifted the spirits of the pro-Government camp.

At about the same time Mousavi released a statement in which he claimed outright victory. Moments later, at 11.50pm [19:20 GMT], Daneshjou appeared. He claimed that about 5 million votes had been counted so far and 69 percent showed Ahmadinejad and less than 30 percent Mousavi as their favorite.

After the Interior Ministry quickly rejected the challenger’s claim, Daneshjou appeared before the press again with an update at 12.20am. Now 8000 more ballot boxes had been counted and the president was still leading with almost 69 percent of the votes. There was some confusion whether these were new counts or recounts.

After this each update count kept Ahmadinejad in a solid lead and after 3am in the morning the Interior Ministry went quiet for the night. The next morning the old and new president was declared victorious.

Disappointed by the results and strong claims of obvious fraud during counting of the votes, Iranian youths took to the streets and violence erupted. About 2000 Mousavi supporters erected barricades in Tehran and clashed with baton wielding police. By Sunday everything seemed to be quiet again, but allegedly three protestors had been killed in some of the most serious unrest Tehran has seen in years.

This certainly does not prove that the elections were outright fraudulent but the counting and the hasty announcement leave room for speculation. In addition it became known that Mousavi’s newspaper, Green Word, did not appear on newsstands Sunday after the paper’s web site reported that about 10 million votes were without identification number and therefore ‘untraceable’.

Of course Mousavi’s statement declaring victory before the announcement of official results might have spurred this race to finish the vote count and therefore unintentionally contributed to street violence. With all the uncertainties there exists no written complain about voter fraud so far said Iranian Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli. Whatever happens in the coming days the level of violence and preparedness among young Iranians is a game changer for the hard line theocrats. Maybe these events will mark the seeds of a new era for Iran and its relationship with the west.  

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Written by Alfred

14. June 2009 at 4:43 pm

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