Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Catching Up On Iran

It's hard to get caught up on the story of Iran's protested election, particularly when I'm not all that familiar with the place, and I haven't been paying attention since this story began.

Nevertheless, I'm getting caught up. Sort of. One thing I've caught up to is what the protests are about, courtesy of Renard Sexton at Five Thirty-Eight. The Iranian presidential election is an open election followed by a runoff, if necessary. If one candidate gets more than 50 percent of the vote, no runoff is necessary. In essence, this is the system used in Louisiana and many other American states. What the party in power appear to have done is tried to avoid a runoff election, or so I've come to believe thanks to Sexton's preview of the election:

Over time, Iran’s Presidential elections have gotten progressively more competitive and pluralistic, as more candidates have been approved to participate, more competitive vote totals have encouraged challengers, and universal voting rights have persisted.


[T]urnout has increased, while the winning share of the vote has dropped significantly, as the elections have become more competitive. In 2005, for the first time, a run-off between former President Rafsanjani and now-incumbent Pres. Ahmadinejad was forced by the first round vote percentages, where the first round winner Rafsanjani earned just 21.1%, and Ahmadinejad 19.4%.

In the 2009 election, even though Ahmadinejad has gotten a bump from his incumbency, the momentum for his challengers has been growing. Many observers are predicting another run-off for the Presidency after today's voting to be required, in the case that no candidate reaches 50% plus one.

Polling and Voting in Iran's Friday Election

That's a problem for the incumbent President Ahmadinejad, since it's possible that all the folks who voted for someone else in the runoff wouldn't vote for him in a runoff. Sexton goes on to write:

While the numbers have been extremely variable between polls, and making a decision about what polls to include or exclude from aggregating in a case like Iran is nearly impossible, we can see a basic cycle that can be corroborated by anecdotal news evidence over the last two months. The incumbent has been largely held below a majority, which in the Iranian system is significant for two reasons. First, an absolute majority is needed, without which a runoff is certain. In addition, if Ahmadinejad fails to earn a majority, he will be the first incumbent President running for reelection to do this.

In summary, the Iranian system is slowly maturing, with more a more competitive and multi-candidate system. The candidates are still restricted to the mainstream approved by the Guardian Council, but this is certainly no one-party system. In fact, the Guardian Council is quite reminiscent of the party nominating conventions that have long been the deciding factor for the "mainstream" candidates in the United States.

Polling and Voting in Iran's Friday Election

What makes the runoff election a better place to commit fraud? More candidates apparently means more opportunities for vote fraud:

Polling put [reform candidate Mahdi Karroubi's] candidacy at around 7-10% of the national vote this time around, with the strong incumbent expected to pull more in the first round than he did in 2005 (19.1%). Karroubi's numbers in his provinces of strength were better, with polling regularly put him at around 20-25% in his home region, with particular strength in the provinces of Lorestan, Ilam, and Khuzestan. This is where the provinicial results get fishy:

Not only did Ahmadinejad beat Karroubi in his base of support, he crushed him beyond all recognition. Karroubi's share of the vote in Lorestan was cleaved by a factor of ten, and in only two other of the provinces did he break above 1%. Even with a consolidation of conservative support, and possible defection of Karroubi supporters to Mousavi (who was likely perceived as the candidate more likely to win) this large of shift is hard to imagine.

Iran Does Have Some Fishy Numbers

Steal a few votes here, a few votes there, and it starts to add up. That appears to have been the strategy. Check Sexton's second article for a more comprehensive explanation.

The other thing I've caught up with is a bulletin board for reports from Iranians on events in their country. As I mentioned earlier today, there has been a blackout of news from Iran, and there have also been attempts to interfere with other forms of communication, including the Internet and Twitter service. Nevertheless, I found a gallery of photos that has some pictures from the protests. I've included a couple below. Note that what I write about them are only my impressions, which could quite easily be wrong. In most cases, there is little explanation provided:

This is a crowd from Monday somewhere in Tehran. Photo page

These appear to be policemen chasing down people on motorcycles and beating them. Photo page

More police on motorcycles, for comparison/contrast. Photo page

A protest crowd from today. Photo page

These photos were released under the Creative Commons license, which means that they can be used by others as long as proper credit is given. Under the circumstances, I think they should be propagated as much as possible.

(h/t to commenter Betsy at Taylor Marsh's site.)

UPDATE: Speaking of Internet blackouts, Taylor Marsh reports that our own State Department's blog has been silent on this issue.

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