by Brien Jackson

To state the obvious, the Iranian election was a sham. Even assuming that it is possible that Ahmadinejad won more votes than any of the other 3 candidates, the idea that he won nearly 2/3 of the vote in a 4 way race is simply not plausible. And as Juan Cole helpfully breaks down, the supposed provincial results make even less sense. The question now is, who is responsible for what can only be called fabricating the results of the election.

The first thing of relevance to note is that Supreme Leader Khamieni is pretty clearly in on the conspiracy. He quickly certified the bogus numbers, even though he’s supposed to wait at least 3 days for the Guardian Council to present the numbers to him, and re-affirmed that today. It seems equally unlikely that “the mullahs” are behind the coup, for the simple reason that Ahmadinejad is very unpopular with the regime’s religious leaders. So the most likely scenario is one of coup-by-Revolutionary Guard, with an assist from the Minister of the Interior, an Ahmadinejad ally who’s been significantly advantaged by the past 4 years.

The relevant question now, of course, is how this will wind up breaking down. Mousavi supporters and college students are clashing with “police” (there’s some speculation that the police are actually refusing to confront the protesters, and it’s Basij militia forces carrying out the governmental violence) in a situation eerily reminiscent of the 1979 revolution. People are chanting insults at the Supreme Leader, and there’s actually rumors of a possbile “impeachment” by the Assembly of Experts. Mousavi’s supporters are planning marches tomorrow, with Mousavi planning on leading the one in Tehran, to end at the Khomieni shrine, if a permit is denied for the demonstration. If Khatami and Rafsanjani show up as well, the situation could be very volatile, with a government whose impulse will be violence restrained by the presence of such popular, high profile figures. If violence erupts in such a scenario, we could be looking at a bona fide Lincoln and Concord moment. The smartest play for the government is to ride out the protests in relatively non-violent fashion, but so far they show no inclination to do so.

Iranian elections may be limited, but we’re not talking about a state like Egypt, where everyone knows the voting is a sham. Iranians take their elections pretty seriously, and in the past the clerics have shown a lack of willingness to interfere with the voting. Khatami won 2 elections with overwhelming support, even if the ayatollahs ultimately frustrated the implementation of his espoused policy preferences. Such obvious fraud is an affront, not just to the young liberalizers, but to the mainstream of the Iranian populace, and plenty of players in the Iraqi establishment as well. Such an obvious fraud isn’t likely to be accepted by much of anyone, and the resulting violence, or more appropriately, the government’s response to it, could set off the revolution many of us have been hoping for in Iran.