Asia Scope

Opposition supporters optimistic despite the sham result

By austing for

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Austin Mackell, on the verge of being deported from Iran, asks whether the ‘results’ of the Iranian election are nothing more than a cynical sham

The festival of democracy that had so raised hopes of change amongst Iranians and in the world’s media is over. This morning, government media announced that with 80 per cent of the votes (30 million) counted incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won by a truly incredible margin – apparently he got more than twice as many votes as the main opposition candidate, Mir-Hossein Mousavi (who at 1am local time had claimed victory, saying he had 54 per cent of the vote).

Other candidates, such as the even more reform-oriented Mehdi Karroubi, are reported to have received less than one per cent of the vote (a tiny fraction of the percentage Karroubi received in the 2005 elections). Even more incredibly, the interior ministry has announced that not a single invalid ballot was cast (no hanging chads here).

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There are also reports that one of Mr Karoubi’s main supporters, the one-time Mayor of Tehran, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, was arrested last night.

Following the announcement of Ahmadinejad’s ‘landslide win’, the Ministry for Islamic Guidance and Culture, who are responsible for granting and extending press visas (which are only given out for a week to 10 days at a time) have also announced that since there will be no second round of voting there will be ‘no extension of visa at all’.

The wisdom of this seems questionable, as most journalists were planning on leaving soon after the elections any how. This, along with a sudden increase in interference with journalists’ work, can only discredit the reported results further.

However, if credibility was a concern, the announced results would probably have been much close to 50-50. Either the leadership here thinks everyone is very stupid, or they are sending another message – that while the Islamic Republic may go through the motions of a democratic process, that process will not be permitted to challenge the power of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and the Guidance Council, to whom Ahmadinejad is very close, and who issued statements in support of him.

The story, however, may not end there, as feelings are running high amongst the supporters of the other candidates, who are facebooking and tweeting at a feverish rate. Other technology is being heavily censored though: SMSs, which were the main way last week’s constant street protests/parties of the last week had been organised, have been blocked since the night before the vote, along with even more websites than usual including the Sydney Morning Herald and the BBC.

‘The first hours we were all shocked… very down,’ a young woman called Ghazaleh told me. Yet the many opposition reporters retain their optimism. ‘We feel like something good could still happen,’ Ghazaleh continued.

A popular image being circulated is of a burst of flame in the shape of Iran. This resonates with an expression on the lips of some I have spoken to, that ‘embers [are] under the ashes’…