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Page last updated at 14:11 GMT, Saturday, 20 June 2009 15:11 UK

Suspicions behind Iran poll doubts

Opposition supporters protest in Tehran (16 June 2009)
Opposition supporters say the election numbers do not add up

By Catherine Miller
BBC News

When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was declared the landslide victor in Iran's presidential election - less than 24 hours after polls closed - the shock on the streets of Tehran was palpable.

Mr Ahmadinejad had won 63% of the vote, his challenger, Mir Hossein Mousavi, 34%.

"I thought at least 80-90% of Tehrani voters were in favour of Mousavi, I can't really believe it," said one man.

Disbelief quickly turned to anger and hundreds of thousands of Mr Mousavi's supporters came out in protest.

But Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, the final authority on all constitutional matters, has stood by the result, saying the Islamic Republic "would not betray the vote of the people".

Mobile polling stations

Opposition concerns about the running of the election emerged early in the process.

People queue to cast their votes in the Iranian election, Tehran (12 June 2009)
There was a record turnout across the country on polling day

Monitors from their campaign teams, who by law are allowed to oversee every polling station, were issued with invalid ID cards or refused entry.

And there was a 10-fold increase in the number of mobile polling stations - ballot boxes transported from place to place by agents of the interior ministry, which is run by a close ally of Mr Ahmadinejad.

"One third of the ballot boxes were mobile," says Mehdi Khalaji, senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

"They were out of the control of the local authorities and the representatives of the candidates, and nobody knows what they have done to them".

Polling day saw a record turnout and Iranians queued for hours to cast their ballot in an election which all agreed was critical to the future direction of their country.

"Early on polling day, the SMS network was shut down, that made me worried about what was going to happen," says Tehran journalist Ali Pahlavan.

BBC Map
Tehran - scene of huge pro-Mousavi rallies ahead of vote and massive protests after vote
East Azerbaijan - home area of Mir Hossein Mousavi
Lorestan - home area of Mehdi Karroubi who won 55.5% of vote there in first round in 2005 compared to 8.8% for Ahmedinejad
Mazandaran - number of votes casts exceeds the number of eligible voters
Khuzestan - home province of candidate Mohsen Rezaie


With little access to the state-controlled broadcast media, Mr Mousavi's largely young, technically savvy supporters use text messages to campaign.

"Then the interior ministry [where results from polling stations around the country are collated] started kicking out its own employees so that just a skeleton personnel and the top officials were left," says Mr Pahlavan.

Quick results

Despite the high turnout, the count was remarkably quick, and the results unusually consistent, with none of the typical variations between different regions and cities.

This is something more than a manipulated election, this is a coup
Mehdi Khalaji

"Iran is a huge country, nearly four times the size of France and they began announcing the results within four hours, in past elections it's taken 24. It just seems to me the fix was in," says Juan Cole, Professor of Middle Eastern History at the University of Michigan.

Others point to particular results which appear unlikely.

For example, in Mr Mousavi's home province of East Azerbaijan, which is known to have fierce regional and ethnic loyalties to the reformist candidate, he polled far worse than expected.

And the liberal cleric Mehdi Karroubi polled 5% in Lorestan, despite having won 55% there in the first round of voting in 2005 when he also stood as a candidate.

"In some provinces like Khoresan or Mazandaran the number of people who voted exceeded the number of eligible voters in those provinces," points out Mr Khalaji.

"If they wanted to do a manipulation as they have done before, they could have done it in a more elegant and delicate way.

"This is something more than a manipulated election, this is a coup".

Irregularities

Mir Hossein Mousavi after casting his vote in Tehran (12 June 2009)
The crisis is now about more than whether the opposition really won

But others say there is no proof of a large scale plot by the establishment.

"The opposition has not provided any hard evidence yet that the elections were rigged," says Arshin Adib Moghaddem of the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.

"If there had been a strategic plan to hijack the elections, I wonder why people like Mohsen Rezai the head of the Expediency Council, who was also one of the presidential candidates, did not know about it. It is highly unlikely".

But with their monitors excluded from the voting and counting process it is difficult for the opposition to come up with such hard evidence.

The Guardian Council, the country's highest supervisory committee is investigating 646 complaints of misconduct.

"It's an admission there were irregularities," says Prof Cole.

"But the problem is, the Guardian Council is headed by a cleric, who is a far-right hardliner and known big supporter of Mr Ahmadinejad," he adds.

"So asking that body to review the ballot is like putting the fox in charge of the chicken coop."

Loss of faith

No-one may ever know exactly what happened on the night of Iran's elections, or who the rightful winner is.

Even critics of the process say it is possible Mr Ahmadinejad won.

An independent poll taken in May by the US organisation Terror Free Tomorrow found 34% of those surveyed would vote for Mr Ahmadinejad, with 14% for Mr Mousavi and 27% undecided.

But the opposition believes this crisis has now gone beyond the question of who the true victor is.

Iran's particular brand of religious democracy has always promised a balance between clerical leadership and the will of the people.

Now many people's faith in that system has been lost. It may take more than a recount of the votes to restore it.

Province Ahmadinejad Mousavi
Votes % Votes %
Total votes: 38,951,043
Source: Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Tehran, 15 June
Tehran Province 3,917,993 53.8 3,383,905 46.5
West Azarbaijan 1,131,111 56.3 837,858 41.6
East Azarbaijan 623,946 46.8 656,508 49.2
Esfahan 1,799,255 68.2 746,697 28.3
Ilam 199,654 63.9 96,826 31
Ardabil 325,911 50.8 302,825 47.1
Bushehr 299,357 60.6 177,268 35.9
Chaharmahal and Bakhtiari 359,578 72.6 106,099 21.4
North Khorasan 341,104 73.5 113,218 24.4
Khorasan Razavi 2,214,801 69.6 884,570 27.8
South Khorasan 285,984 74.6 90,363 23.6
Khuzestan 1,303,129 63.9 552,636 27.1
Zanjan 444,480 75.9 126,561 21.6
Semnan 295,177 77 77,754 20.3
Sistan-Balichestan 450,269 45.8 507,946 51.7
Fars 1,758,026 69.7 706,764 28
Qazvin 498,061 71.9 177,542 25.6
Qom 422,457 70.5 148,467 24.8
Kordestan 315,689 51.7 261,772 42.9
Kerman 1,160,446 77.1 318,250 21.1
Kermanshah 573,568 58.3 374,188 38
Golestan 515,211 59.3 325,806 37.5
Gilan 998,573 67.3 453,806 30.6
Lorestan 677,829 70.3 219,156 22.7
Mazandaran 1,289,257 67.2 585,373 30.5
Central 572,988 72.9 190,349 24.2
Hormuzgan 482,990 57.3 241,988 28.7
Hamedan 765,723 75.1 218,481 21.4
Yazd 337,178 55.3 255,799 41.9
Total 24,359,745 62.5 13,138,775 33.7



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