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Iran: As Winners Head For Runoff, Losers Complain Of Fraud

Voting in Iran on 17 June 19 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Two of the losing candidates in Iran's ninth presidential election on 17 June have complained of military interference in the election, with one calling on the country's supreme leader to intervene and another warning of a fascistic trend in the country's politics.

The overall process has resulted in a first for the Islamic republic, where a presidential runoff is required because none of the candidates earned more than half of the votes cast. Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani is slated to face Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad in the runoff scheduled for 24 June.

But voter turnout was better than in many other presidential elections, and this could have a tremendous impact in the runoff.

Third-Place Challenge

The purported third-place finisher, Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi, complained on 18 June about the behavior of the Guardians Council, which is supposed to supervise the election, IRNA and ILNA reported. He called on Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to appoint a special team to investigate the vote-counting process. "Had the Guardians Council had the authority, it would have ordered Ahmadinejad to be elected without even considering the votes," Mahdavi-Karrubi said. Mahdavi-Karrubi said he spoke with Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari and urged him not to extend the polling hours because of the possibility of fraud. Musavi-Lari reportedly shared this concern but said he was under pressure to keep the polls open.

Mahdavi-Karrubi also referred to alleged interference by the military in the election, IRNA and ILNA reported. "We will prove that the heads of the [Islamic Revolution] Guards Corps had delivered speeches in many places in support of certain candidates," Mahdavi-Karrubi said. Referring to Basij Resistance Force commander Mohammad Hejazi, he said, "If Mr. Hejazi wants to form a party and make Basij his party, he should become the secretary-general of Basij."

Moin Also Protests

Elaheh Kulyai, who is the spokesman for fifth-place finisher Mustafa Moin, also complained on 18 June that Basij personnel interfered with the vote counting, IRNA reported. After the preliminary election results were announced, Moin released a statement in which he described interference in the election process, ILNA reported.

"A powerful will entered the arena bent on the victory of a particular candidate and the elimination of the other candidates and opened the way to the organization of some military bodies and the support of the election supervisory apparatus, so that the self-evident rights of the other candidates could be targeted," Moin said in his statement. "Today, anyone can clearly see the effect of this organized interference on the election results."

"The warning bell has sounded for our fledgling democracy," Moin cautioned. He warned that such events will "lead to militarism, authoritarianism, and narrow-mindedness in this country," and he mentioned "the danger of fascism." "Organized military and supervisory interference in the elections has consequences beyond the violation of the rights of people who voted for me and the likes of me," he said, adding, "I declare that this is a threat to the people's choice and free elections."

Moin's main backers also expressed their disgruntlement. The Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization is one of the main pro-Moin parties, and central council member Seyyed Hashemi Hedayati said the presence of Basij personnel near the ballot boxes was alarming, ILNA reported. "Since a few days ago we have witnessed the systematic organization of the police and Basij and in such a situation we have the right to doubt the outcome of the presidential election," he added.

Final Results?

The Election Headquarters at the Iranian Interior Ministry announced the results on 18 June. None of the candidates secured the minimum of 50 percent-plus of the votes that are required to win outright. Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who secured 6,159,453 votes (about 21 percent), will face Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad, who secured 5,710,354 votes (about 19.5 percent), in next week's runoff.

Then came former parliamentary speaker Mahdavi-Karrubi with 5,066,316 votes; former national police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf with 4,075,189 votes; and former Science, Research, and Technology Minister Moin with 4,054,304 votes. Trailing far behind were former state radio and television chief Ali Larijani with 1,740,163 votes, and Vice-President for Physical Training Mohsen Mehralizadeh with 1,289,323 votes.

The election results are not final until the Guardians Council announces them. Council spokesman Gholam Hussein Elham said on 18 June that candidates have three days to lodge their complaints, Mehr news agency reported.

It is unlikely that Karrubi's entreaty or any other complaints will resonate with Supreme Leader Khamenei, who one day before the election urged Iranians to vote. An 18 June statement from Khamenei praised Iranians for their participation in the election, Mehr News Agency reported. This foiled enemy plots against Iran, he said. Referring to a 16 June White House statement that criticized the election process, Khamenei said, "You, the dear nation, you, the committed and enthusiastic youth, you, the faithful men and women, through your wise and epic presence, made [U.S. President George W.] Bush's insults backfire and showed your strong dedication to the country's independence, the defense of Islam, and Islamic democracy."

According to the Election Headquarters on 18 June, a total of 29,439,982 votes were cast in the election. There are 46,786,418 eligible voters, so this puts turnout at almost 63 percent. This turnout equals that of the 2001 election and surpasses that of the 1985, 1989, and 1993 elections, implying that calls for an election boycott fell on deaf ears.

Further breaking down the turnout figure, the election headquarters counted 29,317,042 correct ballots and another 1,221,940 spoiled ballots (approximately 4 percent). Casting spoiled or blank ballots is a traditional form of protest by individuals who are compelled to vote. Election-day photographs showed military personnel at polling places, and this suggests that voter intimidation could occur or the vote counting could be manipulated. In the absence of independent observers, however, it is impossible to determine whether fraud occurred. It is extremely unlikely that anything will come of the allegations of fraud, because nothing has come of previous allegations.

Looking Ahead

The more important issue now is to determine the outcome of the 24 June runoff. The pro-Moin Islamic Iran Participation Party announced on 18 June that it is undecided. Nevertheless, it is very unlikely that supporters of the reformist candidates will back the hard-line Ahmadinejad. If turnout remains the same, then Hashemi-Rafsanjani will gain the 10,409,943 votes earned previously by Karrubi, Mehralizadeh, and Moin, giving him a total of 16,569,396. Ahmadinejad will presumably earn the 5,815,352 votes that went to Larijani and Qalibaf, for a total of 11,525,706.

It is extremely unlikely that overall turnout will remain flat. Voters who stayed home for the first round -- either out of apathy or because they were consciously boycotting the election -- might be inspired to vote in an effort to preclude Ahmadinejad's victory. This would ensure a Hashemi-Rafsanjani victory. On the other hand, the Guardians Council's apparent favoritism and interference by the Basij could make voter behavior irrelevant.