Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ahmadinejad Is Declared Victor in Iran


TEHRAN — The Iranian government declared an outright election victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Saturday morning, and riot police officers fought with supporters of the opposition candidate, Mir Hussein Moussavi, who insisted that the election had been stolen.

After a mostly quiet morning in Tehran, Moussavi supporters began filtering onto the streets. By early afternoon, thousands had come together, many of them wearing the trademark green of his campaign, chanting angrily that they would fight on as Mr. Moussavi had urged them to do on Friday night when he claimed that he had won and that there had been voting “irregularities.”

“I am the absolute winner of the election by a very large margin,” Mr. Moussavi said during a news conference with reporters just after 11 p.m. Friday, adding: “It is our duty to defend people’s votes. There is no turning back.”

A statement posted on Mr. Moussavi’s Web site on Saturday morning urged his supporters to resist a "governance of lie and dictatorship," according to The Associated Press.

But the Iranian authorities, already on alert, moved quickly to head off any concerted street demonstrations. Thousands of police officers could be seen moving into central Tehran, wielding riot batons and charging straight into the biggest concentrations of protesters. It was unclear whether there were any serious injuries.

In recent days, Mr. Moussavi’s supporters were predicting a wide victory, citing voter surveys. And Mr. Ahmadinejad, the hard-line incumbent, had appeared on the defensive, hurling extraordinary accusations at some of the Islamic republic’s founding figures.

Iran’s Interior Ministry said Saturday that final results gave Mr. Ahmadinejad 62.6 percent of the vote, with Mr. Moussavi receiving 33.7 percent. The ministry says turnout was a record 85 percent of eligible voters.

Though there was no word of Mr. Moussavi’s whereabouts on Saturday, statements on his Web site made clear that he was contesting the official line.

"I’m warning that I won’t surrender to this manipulation," he said, adding that the election outcome “is nothing but shaking the pillars of the Islamic Republic of Iran sacred system and governance of lie and dictatorship."

He warned "people won’t respect those who take power through fraud" and said the decision to declare Mr. Ahmadinejad the winner was a "treason to the votes of the people."

The conflicting claims, coming after an extraordinary campaign that saw vast street demonstrations and vitriolic televised debates, seemed to undermine the public legitimacy of the vote and to threaten unrest.

The emotional campaign was widely seen as a referendum on Mr. Ahmadinejad’s divisive policies. It pitted Mr. Moussavi, a former prime minister who has pledged to move Iran away from confrontation with the West, combat economic stagnation and expand women’s rights, against Mr. Ahmadinejad’s economic populism, social conservatism, and hard-line foreign policy.

Many women, young people, intellectuals and members of the moderate clerical establishment backed Mr. Moussavi. Mr. Ahmadinejad drew passionate support from poor rural Iranians as well as conservatives.

At his news conference, Mr. Moussavi cited irregularities that included a shortage of ballots. He accused the government of shutting down Web sites, newspapers and text messaging services throughout the country, crippling the opposition’s ability to communicate during the voting.

Fraud has been a prominent concern for Mr. Moussavi’s campaign, with many of his allies warning that Mr. Ahmadinejad could use the levers of state — the military, the Revolutionary Guard, and the Basij militia — to cajole or intimidate voters, or even engage in outright fraud. In 2005, Mr. Karroubi, who is also a candidate in this election, accused the Basij of rigging the vote in Mr. Ahmadinejad’s favor.

At his news conference, Mr. Moussavi called on the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to help the country reach a “favorable conclusion.”

Ayatollah Khamenei, who has final authority over affairs of state, appears to be the only figure who could mediate between the two camps in the event of an open confrontation over the legitimacy of the vote. But it is not clear how much he knows about the crisis, or what role he might play.

Mr. Khamenei met on Friday with Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a cleric, former president and backer of Mr. Moussavi’s who had warned the supreme leader in an unusual open letter on Tuesday about the possibility of election fraud, according to a political analyst who spoke on condition of anonymity, citing the gravity of the situation.

While casting his ballot earlier in the day Friday, Ayatollah Khamenei had said that people were using texting to spread rumors, but it is unclear if that is why the services were shut down.

Amid the confusion overnight, a reformist Web site called Fararu said Mr. Moussavi was talking with the two other candidates, Mr. Karroubi and Mr. Rezai, to discuss the situation. Mr. Karroubi is a reformist cleric and Mr. Rezai is a conservative and the former commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

Tens of millions of Iranians crowded voting stations throughout the day, with long lines forming outside some polling stations well before they opened at 8 a.m.

Polls were originally due to close at 6 p.m., but voting was extended by four hours.

The strong showing appeared to be driven in part by a broad movement against Mr. Ahmadinejad that has spurred vast opposition rallies in Iran’s major cities over the past few weeks. Many reform-oriented voters stayed away from the polls in 2005, and now say they are determined not to repeat the mistake.

According to Iran’s election rules, if none of the candidates won more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two finishers would have competed in a runoff in a week. Most analysts had assumed that the election would go to a second round, but in recent days, the extraordinary public support for Mr. Moussavi had led to predictions that he could win the presidency in the first round on Friday.

Iran’s president is less powerful than Ayatollah Khamenei, who has final authority over affairs of state. But the president wields great power over domestic affairs, and Mr. Ahmadinejad has skillfully used the office as a bully pulpit both at home and abroad.

As voting began on Friday morning, journalists gathered to watch Ayatollah Khamenei cast his vote in a mosque near his home in southern Tehran. Just after 8 a.m., a set of brown curtains opened and the leader emerged, a gaunt 69-year-old with glasses and a long white beard, with a black turban on his head and a black clerical gown draped around him. The journalists, mostly Iranians, gasped and then chanted a religious blessing.

The supreme leader presented his identity papers to an official standing nearby, cast his ballots and then gave a brief speech in which he praised the vigor of the election campaign.

“I am hearing about a vast participation of people, and I hear there are even gatherings at night,” the ayatollah said. “This shows the people’s awareness.”

Ayatollah Khamenei’s position on the presidential elections has been a matter of intense speculation. He has not endorsed anyone, but offered a description of the ideal candidate that sounded very much like Mr. Ahmadinejad.

A number of voters seemed anxious about the possibility of vote-tampering.

“I put one name in, but maybe it will change when it comes out of the box,” said Adel Shoghi, 29, who works as a clerk at a car manufacturing company and voted at a mosque in southern Tehran.

Like some other supporters of Mr. Moussavi, Mr. Shoghi seemed uneasy about making his position too explicit in public. But he said he favored Mr. Moussavi because Iran needed more civic freedoms and because Mr. Ahmadinejad worsened Iran’s pariah status internationally, making life hard for Iranians who travel.

His brother Mansoor, 27, said he had just voted for Mr. Ahmadinejad.

“He is more with the people, and he has a plain way of living,” he said, echoing comments made by many of his supporters.

Half an hour later, Mr. Moussavi arrived at the mosque to cast his vote, surrounded by a thick, shouting crowd of aides and photographers.

“This is a golden opportunity for us,” he said, as photographers jostled for position and voters struggled to hear. “All this unity and solidarity is the achievement of the revolution and the Islamic republic,” he said.

He left soon after, with his admirers in the courtyard still chanting, “Hail to Muhammad, the perfume of honesty and sincerity is coming.”

Mr. Ahmadinejad voted at another mosque, in southeast Tehran.

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