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Iran: Do The Presidential Vote Numbers Really Add Up?

  • Bill Samii

Iranian women voting in the second round on 24 June The Guardians Council, the body tasked with supervising Iranian elections, announced on 29 June its endorsement of the second round of the Iranian presidential election five days earlier, the Iranian Students News Agency (ISNA) reported. Yet analysis of election data -- available at the Interior Ministry website (http://www.moi.ir) -- reveals what appear to be glaring irregularities and raises questions. The data also shed light on provincial interests.

The first item that meets the eye is the increase in the number of polling places. There were 40,805 in the first round of the election on 17 June and 40,979 in the second round. There is no explanation for this increase.

The Turnout Question

Then there are the high turnout levels, which are perhaps the most eye-catching aspect of the Interior Ministry data. Ninety percent of eligible voters in eight municipalities voted in the second round. That is an exceptionally high figure for any country, but it is far higher than Iran's average of 59.6 percent.

Voter enthusiasm was particularly noticeable in districts of Tehran in the second round -- Damavand (100.53 percent turnout), Robat Karim (131.3 percent), Rey (216 percent), and Shemiranat (839.82 percent). These districts were similarly impressive in the first round -- as were Jam, Bushehr Province (107.78 percent), Kuhrang, Chaharmahal va Bakhtiari Province (110.39 percent), Mehr, Fars Province (102.23 percent), and Manujan, Kerman Province (112.51 percent in the first round and 108.29 percent in the second round).

There are several possible explanations for the Tehran figures. The Interior Ministry provides data on the number of eligible voters in each municipality. However, one is not restricted to voting at a specific polling station or even in that municipality. As long as one has an Iranian identification card and meets the other eligibility requirements, one can vote anywhere in the country. There are 8,231,230 eligible voters in the capital, according to the Interior Ministry, and 5,367,165 of them voted. This is about 65 percent, which is not much higher than the national average.

Turnout in other major cities was less startling. In Mashhad, Khorasan Razavi Province, turnout was almost 67 percent; in Shiraz, Fars Province, it was about 55 percent; and in Rasht, Gilan Province, it was about 55 percent. In the Khuzestan Province cities of Abadan and Ahvaz, turnout was 44 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

Intimidating Majority?

The more likely explanation for the extremely high turnout figures in parts of Tehran is that out-of-town voters were bused in. Packing polling places in Tehran that are more likely to be visited by foreign correspondents could contribute to reports of "massive participation" and the like. Moreover, the large number of imported voters could serve as a bloc that would intimidate those who are in the minority.

Turnout and results in provinces primarily inhabited by minorities -- Azeris, Baluchis, and Kurds -- was lower than the national average. In nine municipalities in the second round, fewer than 20 percent of eligible voters cast ballots. The lowest turnout figure was 11.87 percent in Bukan, West Azerbaijan Province, where fewer than 16,000 of the approximately 135,000 eligible voters went to the polls. Turnout figures in Ardabil, West Azerbaijan, and East Azerbaijan provinces, were lower than the national average, coming in at 2,398,721 of 5,494,228 eligible voters (43.5 percent). These provinces backed the ethnic Azeri and local son, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, in the first round.

In the first round of the presidential election, Sistan va Baluchistan Province voted overwhelmingly in favor of reformist candidate Mustafa Moin. In fact, this was the only province he won. In the second round of the election, Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani won the province, 381,425 to 282,505. This implies that the province's predominant Baluchi minority believes it would be better served by a less hard-line candidate. Moreover, Moin made a particular effort to reach out to Sunnis in the first round of the election, as did Hashemi-Rafsanjani in the week before the second round.

Turnout in Kurdistan Province -- which Hojatoleslam Mehdi Karrubi won in the first round of the election -- was quite low. Out of 1,032,306 eligible voters, just 257,643 of 1,032,306 eligible voters voted (about 25 percent). The province's proportion of spoiled ballots in the second round, approximately 8 percent, surpassed the national average of approximately 2 percent. In Sanandaj, almost 13 percent of the ballots were spoiled in the first round and more than 11 percent were spoiled in the second round. This is comparable with the 2004 parliamentary elections, when 14 percent of the ballots in Kurdistan Province and 25 percent in Sanandaj were invalid.

Disparate Voices

As scholars, analysts, and policymakers seek to understand the reasons behind and the implications of Mahmud Ahmadinejad's upset victory, it might be helpful to try to understand voters in locations other than Tehran. But the reality is that their interests are as varied as those of voters in the capital. "We are tired of disputes, arguments, violence, and instability, and we want someone who can establish stability -- that is to say, economic, social, political, cultural, and...stability," a prospective voter in Tabriz said, according to "Iran" on 23 June. A Tabriz student promised to back the candidate who could resist efforts to weaken the country's student movement, while another called for a president who would not waste state resources. "Our society needs economic development, and economic development, in turn, cannot materialize without 'stability,'" a Tabriz bazaar merchant told the daily.



[For more on the presidential election, see RFE/RL's archive.]
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