Monday, December 18, 2006

Ahmadinejad’s Followers Ordered to Falsify Election Results

Ahmadinejad’s Followers Ordered to Falsify Election Results

DEBKAfile Exclusive Report

December 18, 2006, 9:45 PM (GMT+02:00)

The results of Iran’s elections for local councils and the powerful Assembly of Experts have been tensely awaited as the first test of the president’s popularity since he took office last year.

DEBKAfile’s Tehran sources report that his followers, seeing which way the wind was blowing, took matters in their own hands. Backed by armed Revolutionary Guards, they stormed the counting sessions Monday, Dec. 18, using threats and physical harassment to force the counters to falsify the results and reverse the gains.

Sixty hours after balloting ended, when only 10 percent of the returns to the key Tehran city election had been counted, the publication of further results was suspended.

Four prominent Iranians, including ex-presidents Hashem Rafsanani and Mohammed Khatami, protested that vote-rigging was taking place.

Ahmadinejad took fright from initial reports that the Reform-Seekers camp headed by Tehran mayor (and former RG officer) Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf were pulling ahead of his own candidates. When this trend showed in the early returns from a small number of provincial towns, our Tehran sources report, Ahmadinejad tried approaching the supreme ruler for a directive to “adjust” the ballot count and switch votes to his supporters. When he was told that Khamenei was too busy to talk to him, he ordered RG musclemen to take off their uniforms and shoulder their way into the ballot counting centers of Tehran, which holds one-sixth of the country’s population. He told them to move cautiously as Ghalibaf has his own armed militia.

By then, Ghalibaf has calculated from one-tenth of the ballots counted that he had carried up to eight of the 15 city council members compared with three for the president’s camp. One of the new pro-Ghalibaf councilors is Iran’s popular national wrestling champion Ali Reza Dabir. The president’s sister, Parvin Ahmadinejad ranks 11th out of 15 candidates on her list and may not win a seat.

An even more painful blow to Ahmadinejad’s prestige is the striking victory indicated by partial results of his perennial rival Hashem Rafsanjani for a seat on the Assembly of Experts. In 2005, Rafsanjani was beaten by the incumbent in the race for the presidency, but this time, he appears to have amassed so far nearly two million votes – more than double that of the president’s mentor, the ultra-radical Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah and ahead of a number of important clerics.

Both Ghalibaf and Rafsanjani have a long reckoning with the pugnacious president. The Tehran mayor claims he was promised the presidency in the last election by supreme ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but that the Ahmadinejad cheated him of the position with the help of the Revolutionary Guards. To keep him quiet, they let him have the Tehran mayoralty, Ahmadinejad’s old job.

For the Dec. 15 local elections, Ghalibaf organized a sophisticated campaign, managed by an old comrade, Col. Morteza Talati, who served until eighteen months ago as commander of security for greater Tehran.

Whatever the final results of the two polls, the Iranian president undoubtedly received a serious slap in the face days after students at Amir-Kabir University in Tehran disrupted his speech with shouts of Liar! Get out! But it is by no means a defeat of his extremist policies, say our Tehran sources. Whether the final results prove to be clean or rigged, they will have no impact on the Islamic Republic’s drive for a nuclear weapon, its sponsorship of terrorism across the Middle East and beyond, its export of extremist Shiite Islam by violent means, confrontation with the West or its threat to Israel.

The elections did provide some insights into Iran’s domestic political dynamic:

1. The municipal council voters were motivated more by local than political or national considerations, which is par for the course in most countries.

2. Ghalibaf is no saint. He made free of the municipal resources, organization and staff available to Tehran’s mayor for a winning campaign. He also managed well in advance to purge the town machinery of most of the staff hired by Ahmadinejad when he was mayor.

3. Although three or four would-be politicians with pretensions as Reform-Seekers will join Tehran’s city council, they will have no say in national affairs. In previous years, when reformers managed to get elected in Tehran, their influence was not felt even in social matters.

The Assembly of Experts nominates the supreme leader for life and has the prerogative to replace him. The president’s fiery mentor’s failure to attract the Iranian voter surprises no one. The views Taghi Mesbah espouses are far out even for Iran’s clerical rulers. He seeks to transform Iran into a religious dictatorship which treats its subjects as minors too immature to make their own decision who must be guided by the “wise guardian, a religious dictator – Valiy-E Faqih. He cherishes the dream of attaining this eminence after Khamenei leaves the stage.

Rafsanjani, on the other hand, is viewed in the West as a moderate against Iran’s extremist landscape, although he shares the views and is a close associate of hard-line Ayatollah Khamenei. But he is also a seasoned diplomat and a pragmatist. Khamenei clearly prefers him as the dominant figure in the Assembly of Experts to provide a counterweight to Ahmadinejad’s confrontational belligerence. He certainly has no wish to see the dictatorial Taghi Mesbah as heir apparent.

But more upsets and surprises are in store before the final results of Iran’s elections are published.

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