Was Iran’s election stolen? New study makes a forceful case

A report by the Chatham House in London and the Institute of Iranian Studies at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland shows that official Iranian election data raises many key questions about the June 12 vote.

A statistical analysis of province-by-province voting in Iran’s June 12 presidential election makes a compelling case for wide-spread fraud in the vote that returned conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power and touched off days of bloody protests in Iran.

The report, “Preliminary Analysis of the Voting Figures in Iran’s 2009 Presidential Election” published by the Chatham House think tank in London and the Institute of Iranian Studies at St. Andrew’s University in Scotland, found instances of greater than 100 percent turnout in two provinces. It also found an improbable 90 percent turnout in four other provinces. The research was based official Iranian data.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, with defeated challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters saying the election was stolen, political scientists cautioned that it was possible that Mr. Ahmadinejad had won, given the lack of accurate polling data before the election

Vastly different voting patterns

But the researchers found a pattern of voting widely at odds from past Iranian elections, including a surge in support for Ahmadinejad in rural areas where conservative candidates were deeply unpopular in Iran’s 1997, 2001, and 2005 elections.

In those elections “conservative candidates, and Ahmadinejad in particular, were markedly unpopular in rural areas,’’ the authors write. “That the countryside always votes conservative is a myth. The claim that this year Ahmadinejad swept the board in more rural provinces flies in the face of these trends.”

Ahmadinejad won more than 44 percent of reformist voters?

They also find that for Ahmadinejad’s support to be legitimate, in a third of Iran’s provinces he would have had to win over not only all of his former supporters, but all formerly centrist voters, all new voters, and “up to 44 percent of former reformist voters, despite a decade of conflict between these two groups.”

'It's the economy, stupid'

Juan Cole, a historian of the Middle East and an expert on Shiite Islam at the University of Michigan, called the results “fairly damning” noting that Iran’s economy has deteriorated sharply in the past year, something that almost always hurts incumbents in free and fair elections.

The paper also finds that while in past elections there were considerable differences in turnout from province to province, these regional differences declined sharply in the latest election. “The data seems to suggest that regional variations in participation have suddenly disappeared,’’ the authors wrote.

“This makes the lack of any sort of direct relationship between the provinces that saw an increase in turnout and those that saw a swing to Ahmadinejad all the more unusual,’’ they write. “The lack of a direct relationship makes the argument that Ahmadinejad won the election because of an increase in participation by a previously silent conservative majority somewhat problematic.”

Meanwhile on Monday, protestors continued to take to the streets of Tehran, though in small groups harried by riot police and helicopters. Iran’s highest elected authority, the Guardian Council, admitted on Monday to electoral “irregularities” in 50 of the nation’s 366 districts, but insisted that these problems were minor and did not effect the outcome of the election.

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