Sunday, August 21, 2005

Statistics shed Light on the Rigged Elections in Iran

Kamal Tehrani, Rooz Online:
One month after the ninth presidential elections in June, 2005, statistics have been released that not only confirm the widespread irregularities in the voting, but even corroborate the suspicions that the outcome of the elections would have been different if the rigging were prevented.

During the first phase of the elections, people had noticed unlawful interventions in the elections process and had made their observations known. But few then suspected the extent of the manipulations and that they would actually be so gross as to alter the outcome of who got into the presidential palace. What Rafsanjani, Moin and even Karoubi had said in their interviews and letters to government officials was perhaps at the time not taken very seriously because, being presidential candidates themselves, they were parties with vested interests in the outcome. READ MORE

Rafsanjani was asked about the rigging soon after the results were announced, to which he said that “the decision had been made to make Ahmadinejad the next president.” Since then, he has refrained from taking the issue to the public or engaging in the public discourse on it. But with the announcement of cabinet candidates, the talk of election rigging has again surfaced. Even then president Khatami who had at the time referred to the rigging as an exercise in “dishonesty, has privately or behind official doors spoken in much harsher words about how the elections were conducted. His discussion of the problem at the Supreme National Security Council even raised objecting eyebrows among the conservative members of the Council.

The new report that has been published on the well being of the elections, shows that in Tehran at least 276, 000 votes and in Isfahan 70,000 votes counted for Ahmadinejad were fictitious. Despite this, reformers and others are hesitant in following up the rigging because of the heavy price involved. The most common argument against opening up the case is that the event is over and done with and any review or pursuit would only hurt the whole state. It has also been reported that a religious order has been issued by a high ranking official asking clerics inside the government to refrain from responding to issues relating to the last presidential elections as this would only weaken the regime. A inside source said on condition of anonymity that high ranking officials had said in a meeting of the supreme leaders of the country to think of the regime and not who is in charge, just as the American Democrats did during the US presidential elections of 2000.

This report states that it confines its investigation and review, through statistical methods, only to voting and counting of votes in the precincts. Such a disclaimer makes it clear that the investigators had certainly come across other irregularities - such as intimidation, forced mobilization of groups, usage of government money and instruments - that for whatever reason did not wish to include in their report.

The report is broken down into three sections, by geography: The Whole Country; Tehran; and, Isfahan.

Shemiran, a suburb of Tehran, with 800 percent votes

Three reasons are cited for rigging in favor of Ahmadinejad in this chapter. The first is geographically wide vote for Ahmadinejad, ranging from half a percent in towns like Sarbaz, Nik Shahr and Bastak to 59 percent in Bafgh and Meybod, showing a spread of 80 percent across the country. This is in contrast to Hashemi Rafsanjani’s votes that show only a 40 percent coverage, 40 percent of the country. Significantly, Rafsanjani has the highest votes in his home town of Rafsanjan and Kerman province. Whereas, Ahmadinejad has his highest votes in Isfahan, Qom, Yazd and Tehran.

One would expect that Ahmadinejad would have higher votes in the religious towns. But this is not the case. In fact there is a correlation between his high votes and the high number of additional voters in specified towns. In other words, in those areas where statistics indicate a higher than usual number of voters, Ahmadinejad has the highest votes. This would indicate that Ahmadinejad had brought new voters to the booths. Put it differently, if Ahmadinejad had not been a candidate, these “new” individuals would not have come to the booths to vote. However, this logic goes against the fact that the clerics have been calling elections a religious duty, so that all religious Iranians have been voting since the first election in the Islamic Republic and voted this time as well, regardless of Ahmadinejad. So Islamic voters have been saturated. They have consistently voted in all the elections and so there are no new religious people to come and vote. With this in mind, the question then is where did Ahmadinejad, who was supported by the cleric politicians and leaders, get these supporters and voters?

To sum up, the record of the religious voters shows their weight and numbers. But these numbers show a change in the last presidential elections. Who are the new additional voters?

The argument may be made that these people came to vote not because of religious calls but because of Ahmadinejad’s platform and promises. We know that Ahmadinejad was addressing the deprived and poor for his votes. His messages were tuned for them. The votes that he would get therefore, would come from the towns, villages and generally deprived areas of the country. But statistics indicate that he got the upper hand in large cities and towns that at the national level do not qualify to be poor or having poorer residents. The report makes it clear that Ahmadinejad’s votes come from the wealthy areas and districts. For example, in the poor provinces of Baluchistan or Ilam, people mostly voted for other candidates.

The report shows that the highest votes for Ahmadinejad came from Shemiran, a rich suburb of north Tehran, where he received 800 percent of the eligible votes! That is eight times more than the registered voters in the town. The only way a large number of voters can show up and vote is if they come from other districts. But why would such a large number of people go away from their own district and vote uptown? Even if one considers that perhaps these were people who normally go on hikes in north Tehran, then one could still dismiss them by accepting the fact that people who go hiking uptown are not the deprived and poor people who have been Ahmadinejad’s main constituencies.

A statistician and analyst who has reviewed the report says that normally about 85 percent of the eligible voters in a district participate in voting. Anything beyond that is very unusual.

Ray, another township of Tehran, has recorded votes that are 216 percent of the eligible voters. This is where Ahmadinejad received a mere 40 percent of the votes. This begs the question how come Ahmadinejad could get only 40 of the voters in a district that is poor, i.e. his supporters, while getting the majority in the rich district of Shemiran?

This analyst has pointed out that the possible explanation for the high number of votes for Ahmadinejad in Tehran is probably because of the strong organizational structure that exists in the capital, especially for the military and para-military forces such as the Baseej, who supported Ahmadinejad. An analysis of the voting pattern in Tehran’s 17 districts shows that where ever there was an increase in the number of votes if compared to earlier years, Ahmadinejad received the majority of them. For example, in Tehran’s sixth district where Ahmadinejad received the least votes (only 6.5 percent) there was only a small change from the 2001 elections. Whereas in districts 15, 14, and 18, where Ahmadinejad got 48, 45, and 42 percent of the votes respectively, there was a dramatic increase in the number of voters.

Isfahan is another city where Ahmadinejad’s votes are amazingly high. Estimates had predicted that Moin would have the upper hand in this large city, because this is his birthplace and where he has the strongest roots with the population. This rule has proven true with other candidates where Hashemi got the highest votes in Kerman, Alizadeh in Turkish populated provinces, and Larijani in the northern Caspian province. The only exception has been Isfahan. Had this province been a distant less relevant one or had Moin not been a national figure, then the votes for him may have been more acceptable. Or, even if Ahmadinejad had been from Isfahan, then one could accept this logic. But neither is true. The only explanation the connection to the military and para-military agencies in Isfahan. It should be noted that this is the province which has indicated its discontent with the general state of affairs and ayatollah Montazeri, who has been under house arrest and exiled since the days of Khomeini, but who enjoys a tremendous popularity there, is a prime example. Isfahan has other features that make such a vote for Ahmadinejad questionable. This is also the province that has had the greatest expectations from the regime, but which has been disappointed the most as well because of the arrests of its leaders (Montazeri and others). In Isfahan too, like Tehran, the same correlation exists that the higher the additional voters (when compared to earlier voting patterns and resident voters) the higher the votes for Ahmadinejad.

These analysts point out that any statistician or analyst who carefully examines the elections data will conclude that in the first round of elections about 20 percent of the votes were rigged. In the run off elections, the number stands at about 45 percent. These elections enjoyed the least integrity and fairness when compared with all the earlier ones. These analysts point out that if election monitoring and supervision is to take place in future elections to ensure a healthier process and outcome, then the role of the para-military forces such as the Baseej need to be carefully studied and reconsidered as they enjoy a well disciplined and organized structure that is lead by only one faction of power in the Islamic Republic.