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GET UPDATES FROM Kaveh L. Afrasiabi, Ph.D.
 

Obama Should Congratulate Ahmadinejad

Posted: 08/20/09 12:47 PM ET

There are several good reasons why president Barack Obama should join his White House guest this week, Egypt's president Hosni Mubarak, as well as the UN's Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, and dozens of other world leaders who have extended congratulations to Iran's duly re-elected president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Not to do so reflects a poor judgment on the White House's part, particularly since Obama has yet to fulfill his own post-election promise of responding to Ahmadinejad's letter that congratulated him for his victory.

First, with the dust of the post-election turmoil settling and the absence of any hard evidence of "rigged elections" becoming more and more transparent, time is actually on the side of Ahmadinejad, who has been much vilified in the western press, and maligned at home by his reformist challengers, as the grinch who "stole" the election.

Unfortunately, the sum of evidence presented by Mr. Mir Hossain Mousavi and Mehdi Karrubi to corroborate their allegations of widespread fraud in the June 12th elections simply doesn't add up. This author has examined in depth both the official complaints of losing candidates, as well as the various reports issued by their "truth committee", and has found them to be dreadfully lacking in substance, contradictory, and thick on irrelevant innunedo, such as passing off such pre-election "irregularities" seen in television debates as evidence of election fraud.

Second, lest we forget, Mousavi alone had more than forty thousand representatives at nearly ninety percent of the voting centers and, yet, his complaint to the oversight Guardian Council refers only to the few hundreds who were not allowed to monitor the balloting, without bothering to mention that nearly all his eyes and ears who monitored the process failed to report and document any major irregularities. According to the election officials, Mousavi had lodged complaints about merely 89 centers, indeed a minuscule number compared to more than forty-five thousand such centers throughout Iran.

Third, by all indications Mr. Mousavi, who improperly declared himself the "definite winner" exactly one hour after the voting had stopped, put the cart before the horse by first challenging the election results and then fishing for evidence, a hopeless cause as his own truth committee has undermined the argument that Ahmadinejad did not win the rural votes, by complaining that Ahmadinejad "purchased votes" by distributing cash and food to some 5.5 million villagers, as well as raising salaries, in the weeks ahead of election day.

Fourth, such complaints, including Mousavi's allegation of improper use of government resources, such as means of transportation, by the incumbent president, are not strictly speaking germane to allegations of "widespread fraud" at the ballot boxes, nor are unprecedented in Iran's young electoral system, in light of similar complaints in the past elections including against the reformist ex-president, Mohammad Khatami.

Fifth, compared to the past, the 2009 election was more transparent, as the government has published all the ballot box data pertaining to more than sixty thousand boxes receiving nearly forty million votes -- on average each box contained some 875 votes, making it easy to tally; hence the rapidity of the vote count, thanks in part to the system's electronic upgrade.

Sixth, the pitfall of pro-Mousavi demonstrators in Tehran who were carrying the sign "where is my vote?" was that they were not actually protesting that their own votes had been rigged; how could they since they won a solid majority in the country's capital, with Mousavi receiving 52 percent of the votes there, some 300,000 more than Ahmadinejad. The problem with those demonstrators and their leadership was that they somehow felt that they should have also won in the rest of the country -- an undue expectation, among other things, because of Mousavi's late entry to the race after a twenty-year absence from politics and his limited campaign compared to Ahmadinejad's extensive trips to every single province, particlularly the "deprived" areas such as Kerman, Chahar Mahal, South Khorasan, etc, where he won by a solid majority.

Seventh, in addition to Tehran, Mousavi also won in Yazd, Zahedan, Zanjan, Ardabil, and his hometown of Shabestar, a total of 46 voting districts mostly dominated by ethnic minorities, whereas the majority Persians voted solidly for Ahmadinejad, reflecting the race's ethnic undercurrent.

Eighth, with respect to the question of how Ahmadinejad's challengers could have done so poorly in their own home provinces, there is actually nothing unusual about this, and suffice it to say that in the 2005 elections, two candidates -- Mehr Alizad and Bagher Moin -- lost badly in their birth provinces.

Ninth, for sure the 2009 presidential elections was not problem-free and the government conceded the irregularity of excess votes in some 50 towns affecting 3 million votes. But, in some areas where this occurred such as Yazd or Shemiranat, Mousavi actually won, and mostly this phenomenon was attributable to summer travel affecting Caspian resort towns -- there are no registered voters in Iran, and Iranian voters can vote anywhere with proper identification.

Tenth, Iran's election system may not be fraud proof but it is for all practical purposes "rigged-proof" in light of the elaborate oversight by two sets of monitors, tens of thousands of monitoring representatives by the candidates, and the participation of some 60,000 election staff chosen at local levels primarly from among the ranks of teachers and the like, who are responsible for counting the votes. As of this date, not one of them has come forward corroborating the allegations of ballot box fraud.

Eleventh, even if all the three million above-mentioned votes had gone Mousavi's way, he would have still fallen short of beating Ahmadinejad, who defeated Mousavi with a margin of two-to-one, by receiving 11 million more votes -- or 63 percent compared to Mousavi's 33 percent -- just as predicted by the Washington-based pollsters of Terror Free Tomorrow, whose pre-election opinion survey led them to predict a first round victory by Ahmadinejad, a conclusion they stuck in their post-election piece in the Washington Post, where they conceded that the voting results "may reflect the will of Iranian voters." Their views have been endorsed by, among others, the US statistical guru, Nate Silver, who has stated that the Iranian elections results are "valid based on statistical analysis."

Indeed, much to the chagrin of reformist-friendly pundits in the West, close analysis of the election results gives absolutely no objective basis for levelling the charges of a rigged election. Ahamadinejad won fair and square by receiving some 24 million votes by an electorate that is enamored of his economic populism, fierce nationalism, austere life-style, promotion of Iran's nuclear rights, standing up to Uncle Sam, etc -- this despite a barrage of Western media propaganda prior to the elections that constantly vilified Ahmadinejad.

In conclusion, notwithsanding the above suggesting an election fraud hoax that does not withstand the weight of critical scrutiny, it does not bode well for Obama's policy of Iranian engagement to be disengaged from the world's growing recognition that Ahmadinejad was unfairly accused of stealing an election that he actually won fair and square. Even the British diplomat in Tehran attended Ahmadinejad's inaugural ceremony, as did several dozen other foreign diplomats, including from several European nations, in a sign of approval of the election results.

Sadly, the US has lagged behind, partly due to the negatie influence of pro-Mousavi Iranian pundits and academics, many of whom rushed to sign a petition to the UN Secretary General deploring the Iranian government's "disrespect" for the votes of Iranian electorate. Fortunately, the astute UN Secretary General excerisd independent judgment and righly reached the conclusion that despite their academic credentials, the signatories of that petition were fundamentally wrong in their unreflective sounding board for the losing candidates; hence his crucial decision to congratulate Ahmadinejad for his electoral success. Following Ban's footstep, Mr. Obama must now do the same, in the interest of fairness to Ahmadinejad and his mass of Iranian supporters throughout Iran, otherwise the risks to his ship of Iran diplomacy remain rather large.