I might have spoken too soon yesterday when I said that Iran was having an ‘election’. Despite a record 85% turnout on Friday, the situation in Tehran in the last 24 hours has been anything but democratic.
Protests erupted across the country on Saturday as Mir Hussein Moussavi, president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s opponent, continued to denounce the figures provided by Iran’s Interior Ministry as fraudulent. News outlets are reporting that at least one protester has been killed in the protesters’ clashes with government militias and riot police. Despite calls from Ahmedinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei for peace and calm, protests have continued into the night.
Originally I thought that the prime motivation behind the protests might have been the lopsidedness of the results. Despite the fact that Moussavi lead Ahmedinejad in most opinion polls (wiki) before the election (sometimes by a large margin), the Interior Ministry announced on Saturday that Ahmedinejad had won 62.6 percent of the vote.
More, however, seems to be at work than just ballot-counting “irregularities” (as Moussavi put it on Friday). Iran expert Gary Sick’s summary of what has happened since Friday paints a troubling picture:
• Near closing time of the polls, mobile text messaging was turned off nationwide
• Security forces poured out into the streets in large numbers
• The Ministry of Interior (election headquarters) was surrounded by concrete barriers and armed men
• National television began broadcasting pre-recorded messages calling for everyone to unite behind the winner
• The Mousavi campaign was informed officially that they had won the election, which perhaps served to temporarily lull them into complacency
• But then the Ministry of Interior announced a landslide victory for Ahmadinejad
• Unlike previous elections, there was no breakdown of the vote by province, which would have provided a way of judging its credibility
• The voting patterns announced by the government were identical in all parts of the country, an impossibility (also see the comments of Juan Cole)
• Less than 24 hours later, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamene`i publicly announced his congratulations to the winner, apparently confirming that the process was complete and irrevocable, contrary to constitutional requirements
• Shortly thereafter, all mobile phones, Facebook, and other social networks were blocked, as well as major foreign news sources.
Apparently the only web service that hasn’t been shut down/blocked by the Iranian government is Twitter.
Excel-savvy Iranians are also suspicious of the fact that, when the 6 official vote counts provided by the Ministry of the Interior are graphed (Ahmedinejad v. Moussavi), they yield an impossibly high R^2 value (aka., an impossibly straight line). From Andrew Sullivan’s blog: