No Meaningful Evidence of Election Fraud in Iran

An Iranian supporter of defeated reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi demonstrates on June 17, 2009 in Tehran, Iran. Getty Images

Experts see no ‘smoking gun’ for Iran election fraud
By Andrew Beatty / June 17, 2009

WASHINGTON — Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election victory is disbelieved by hundreds of thousands of Iranians who have poured onto Tehran’s streets in protest, but experts say hard evidence of vote rigging is elusive.

Since the government handed the incumbent president a landslide win over opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi hours after Friday’s vote, Tehran has been convulsed by protests unseen since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Outside Iran, debate over the election result is split down largely political lines.

Former US presidential candidate John McCain, a conservative, has insisted he is “sure” the elections in Iran were rigged. With equal ferocity leftist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has lambasted “foreign efforts” to discredit an “historic” election.

But with few independent observers on hand to witness the vote, analysts warn there is little evidence of a smoking gun of electoral fraud, or evidence that would affirm a fair vote.

Statisticians, pollsters and Iran experts have been poring over the results for hints of vote-rigging, or the possibility that the controversial president is backed by around 63% of voters.

Ken Ballen, president of the Washington-based Terror Free Future think tank, three weeks ago conducted a rare country-wide poll by phone of 1,001 people to gauge Iranians’ voting intentions.

According to Mr. Ballen it is not obvious from that poll that the results of the election were rigged. “At that time Mr. Ahmadinejad was ahead by two to one. Is it plausible that he won the election? Yes.”

The survey showed that 34% of Iranians intended to vote for Mr. Ahmadinejad. Mr. Mousavi was the choice of just 14% of respondents.

But Mr. Ballen cautioned against concluding that the vote was fair.

The poll result fell far short of Mr. Ahmadinejad’s margin of victory, and 27% of Iranians surveyed were still undecided at the time the survey was taken. “Anything could have changed,” Mr. Ballen said.

Mr. Mousavi supporters point to the amazingly quick tallying of millions of hand-counted ballots and the Mr. Ahmadinejad’s surprise win in Mr. Mousavi’s home town, Tabriz, as proof positive of foul play.

Mr. Mousavi is from Iran’s Azeri minority, so voters in his native region in East Azerbaijan province were expected to back him to the hilt, according to Ali Alfoneh, an Iran expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

Instead official results showed Mr. Ahmadinejad won the town and Mr. Mousavi’s tally across the province was a modest 42%.

But Mr. Ballen’s poll indicated only 16% of Azeri Iranians would vote for Mr. Mousavi, against 31% of Azeris who claimed they would vote for Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Walter Mebane, a University of Michigan professor, has been examining the election results using statistical and computational tools to detect fraud, a method he describes as “election forensics.”

Comparing 366 district results with those from the 2005 elections, Mr. Mebane concluded that the “substantial core” of local results were in line with the basic statistical trends.

“In 2009 Mr. Ahmadinejad tended to do best in towns where his support in 2005 was highest, and he tended to do worst in towns were turnout surged the most.”

But Mr. Mebane said data released by the Iranian authorities was not detailed enough to say whether the vote was rigged or not.

“The vote counts I see recorded here do connect to reality to some extent, but in no way do I think that any of this analysis rules out the possibility of manipulation,” he told AFP.

Mr. Mebane pointed out that trends would still ring true if the government simply inflated Mr. Ahmadinejad’s vote by a fixed percentage, perhaps offsetting it against deflated opposition tallies.

With half a million people on the streets, proof of such a falsification could spell the difference between a call for justice and a revolution, according to Mr. Alfoneh.

“If the system totally fails to provide documentation that this is not fraud, that is something that is going to radicalize the protesters,” Mr. Alfoneh said.

Source / Agence France-Presse / National Post

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5 Responses to No Meaningful Evidence of Election Fraud in Iran

  1. Steve Russell says:

    Actually, I think it IS “poring.”

    And this is a half vast piece of anti-democratic propaganda.

    Compare the numbers in the provinces where the opponents have their bases. Do you believe those numbers?

    And have you yet figured out how to hand count that many ballots by hours after the polls close?

    Dumb dumb dumb, and so dumb there has to be a political agenda attached.

    I don’t know if Ahmadinejad won or not, but i’m absolutely certain the reported numbers are wrong.

  2. Pollyanna says:

    I’ve just seen part (I tuned in late) of the Ayatollah’s Friday address on C-SPAN, very interesting, and quite different than portrayed by other media.

    VERY interesting.

    What actually IS going on in Iran? I, for one, am beginning to have certain Bad Thoughts, thoughts I had hoped never to have again…

    Televised coverage this afternoon on CNN (Saturday 6/20), once a place of respectable reporting, is appalling in its focus on the most trivial aspects of events in Iran and demonstrations in the US, as reporters and studio anchor alike neglect to ask anything of substance, and change the subject if anyone starts to discuss anything meaningful on air.

    However, one tidbit did slip through: the “former Crown Prince of Iran” will “weigh in” soon with advice to the West on how to handle the (presumably) continuing crisis in Teheran. That would be Mr. Reza Pahlavi. Name familiar? I believe he would be the grandson, yes, of the gentleman sometimes called “the old Shah”, a tool of US imperialism.

    Bad Thoughts. Yes indeed. And I hear the Ayatollah ask, “Who is providing funds to oppress the people of Palestine?”, and “Who is making war in Iraq and Afghanistan?”, asking what the US can teach Iran about human rights and reminding his supporters of the death by fire of 80 men, women and children in the Branch Davidian complex near Waco. And I ask myself, “Who has funded nearly every coup d’etat in the world over the last 60+ years? What would be a politically acceptable way of neutralizing the perceived threat (economic and nuclear) of Iran to perceived US interests?”, and perhaps most critically, “Can something that consists of unarmed protestors in the streets actually be called a ‘revolution’?”

    The US cannot afford, certainly, to invade yet a third country in the region of the Indian Ocean — not now, anyway. But work to foment internal dissolution by any means available and necessary? Do we think that our “political culture” (or the power relationships that define it) has changed so much as to preclude it?

    Most suspicious to me is the right-wing enthusiasm — albeit in some cases apparently reluctant — for the demonstrators in Teheran, so palpably like ourselves, so different from what the right generally recognizes as “ourselves”. Imagine if the American Left had half the chutzpah of the Iranian secular urbanites after Dubya’s first “election”! Would we have been portrayed so sympathetically?

    Finally, re the media ban from Iranian election and post-election coverage, and reliance on furtive YouTube video and tweeted messages (so progressive! so emblematic of the young with whose aspirations we identify!) and scenes of unfolding chaos: can anyone name one other time since THE BEGINNING OF THE WORLD that journalists worth the air they breathe have ACCEPTED such a ban??? Where is al-Jazeerah’s coverage and why aren’t we seeing it here?????

  3. Steve Russell says:

    I don’t know about Al-Jazeera, but Al-Arabiya’s reporters got their visas yanked at the same time as all the Western journalists.

    I laughed out loud at that press conference where Christiane Amanpour questioned the translation when the grand poo-bah gave a non sequitor answer, but I kind of thought she was going to get her ass tossed out…which happened the next day.

    If the mullahs don’t want journalists to put that raw internet stuff on the air, they should let the journalists gather news in the customary ways.

    Governments that hide things normally have something to hide.

    I do not understand why this is obvious in the case of the redacted CIA report on torture we are currently fighting over in this country but it is not obvious in the case of the Iranian government attempting to block the internet and jerking the visas of reporters.

  4. Received this in my inbox/e-mail today; sharing….

    While we may sympathize with the plight of Iranian protesters, we should also think carefully about what revolution, regime collapse, and the possible fissuring of the state would mean for regional stability and the security of American forces. The experience of Iraq should remind Americans that political convulsion is often accompanied by other upheavals, including violence. Those consequences are never entirely foreseeable and the costs are always borne most heavily by civilians. It would be the height of folly and the ultimate expression of national narcissism for our government to cheer for a revolution without considering the price to be paid by those who live with its consequences.

  5. P.S. – I never noticed the trash-can to delete your owon comment; pretty nifty.

    I got the new updated Explorer 8, and it’s got many new features and gizmos so don’t know whether that trash can was always there, and I just missed it.

    Anyway, I heard the former crown prince of Iran speak on C-Span; I think there’s something definitely brewing and much more behind this recent demonstration. He seemed to speak as if he might actually return from exile and take a key part in Iran’s future. Makes a person feel all of this has been worked out in a time-table that was agreed upon and established well in advance. Makes me go ‘hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm’

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