Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was announced the outright victor of Iran's presidential election by Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli. Mahsouli, who was responsible for the polls that gave Ahmadinejad a landslide victory of almost 63 per cent.of the vote, has been an intimate professional ally of the President since their days together at university 30 years ago.
The announcement of Ahmadinejad's 'triumph' has been met with widespread claims of election fraud and has set off violent protests and clashes unprecedented since the Islamic revolution 30 years ago. Hundreds of political allies of Mir-Hossein Mousavi were rounded up overnight while he was rumoured to be under house arrest. Reformist opponents of the President have refused to accept the result. Mir-Hossein Mousavi (with 13.2 million, or 34 per cent, of the votes) described it as a 'coup', and said he would 'not surrender to this dangerous charade. The result... will jeopardize the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny.' Even conservative challenger Mohsen Rezai, who came third with 1.7 per cent of the votes, put in an 'official complaint' to the Guardian Council against anomalies in the race.
Mehdi Karroubi, who was put last with 333,635 votes, or 0.85 per cent, claimed the results were 'illegitimate and unacceptable'. Such low numbers of votes for a political heavyweight like Karroubi are highly unusual - especially as in the 2005 presidential election, Karroubi received more than five million votes (5,066,316) to Ahmadinejad's almost six million (5,710,354).
A brief inspection of the official election results published by the Ministry of Interior also shows that figures are largely inconsistent with urban and rural voting patterns of the last 30 years and with the local variations, including ethnic loyalties, that normally emerge. In the 2005 presidential election, Mohsen Mehr'Alizadeh came last. But he was still the leading candidate in his home state of Azerbaijan, gaining over a million votes there. Yet this time round Ahmadinejad's results throughout the country show a consistent margin of 63 per cent, even in the home towns of his opponents, including Mousavi's heartland of Azerbaijan. It is as if a clean line has been hand drawn across the country.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's opponents have long accused him of manufacturing support by bussing in extras for his crowd scenes. At the outset of the campaign, in May, a young boy even tragically died in a bus crash carrying students on a 200 km journey from Fasa to one of the President's rallies in Shiraz. The daily Etemad-e-Melli questioned the 'closure of schools and offices... forcing students, clerks and soldiers to attend a welcome ceremony' for the sake of appearances.
This need for an outward show of power was further highlighted when the Tabnak posted an official memorandum by the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) commanding all male and female centres to bus in between 80 to 120 people to an Ahmadinejad campaign rally on 8 June. The memo stated that all expenses would be covered by the IRGC and that personnel were required to attend without uniforms. The tactic paid off in the sense that the rally was then reported (in Britain's The Times, for example) as having been attended by 50,000 supporters of the President 'consumed by revolutionary fervour'.
On Sunday, the President tried to conclude his 2009 presidential campaign as it had started, with tens of thousands of people attending a rally in central Tehran to celebrate his re-election. But elsewhere in the capital the protests at the extraordinary 'results' continue.
Stop press: Today (Monday) Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, who over the weekend insisted that people should accept the election result, has announced that he is asking the Guardian Council to investigate the allegations of election fraud.
For more background on Iran see New Internationalist 398