Preliminary Thoughts on Ahmadinejad’s Re-election

The Iranian elections were the last of three crucial elections, the others being the Israeli and American elections, needed to establish a tone and general direction for peace negotiations across the Middle East. With the international community watching closely,  most experts agreed it would come down to a run-off between the top two candidates.  Shocking everyone except himself, Ahmadinejad won in a landslide victory with almost 63% of the national vote. With no viable alternatives, the opposition cried for foul and the notion of election fraud has been widely accepted by the media.

In an interview on Meet the Press, Vice President Biden attempted a restrained position on the outcome, “‘I have doubts, but withhold comment.’ He added that the Iranian government had suppressed crowds and limited free speech, which raised questions.”

While not mathematically conclusive, some specific aspects of the election are suspicious. Karroubi won a combined 7% in his native Lorestan and neighboring Khuzestan, after winning both with 55.5% and 36.7% respectively in 2005. While it is conceivable that many Karroubi supporters for whom Ahmadinejad was a second choice might have voted for the incumbent in the hopes of preventing a runoff, that such a large number would desert a favorite son on the first ballot even for htis reason strains credulity.

Similarly, Mousavi failed to carry his home province of East Azerbaijan and barely managed to win neighboring West Azerbaijan. While some are quick to point out Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee, I think a more relevant precedent is Jimmy Carter carrying Georgia in the 1980 presidential election. Iranian politics are deeply divided according to ethnic lines and a poor showing in ones “home district” raises serious questions.

Beyond electoral speculation and analysis, the ballots were hand written and Iran experienced record breaking participation. Rapid and accurate results are characteristics not typically associated in elections using hand written ballots. Diving further in Sexton’s analysis, it becomes clear that Ahmadinejad’s victory most likely represents “an exaggerated figure”. However, whether that figure is only 3-5% outside the actual vote or something closer 20-30% cannot be determined from data available to us.

Notwithstanding the upcoming challenges to the legitimacy of Iranian democracy, the allegations of election fraud and consequential re-election of Ahmadinejad was perhaps the best-case scenario for U.S. engagement with Iran. Ultimate authority in foreign policy matters lies with Ayatollah Khamenei. The election of either Mousavi or Ahmadinejad would not change his anti-American stance. Political pressure from Iranian Youth and the threat of another revolution are the only serious challenges to the status quo. Unprovoked by the US, Iran’s political turmoil might play exactly into Obama’s call for change.

If Ahmadinejad remains president and negotiations stall, he will undoubtedly serve as the scape-goat. Failure to establish diplomatic relations and a peaceful compromise of Iran’s nuclear program will lead to economic sanctions from the international community. Combining the questionable election with his polarizing nature, Ahmadinejad has little chance of encouraging meaningful international support in his second term.

Most importantly, Iran has addressed this election crisis with a complete disregard for free speech; even an official call for a recount was unable to quiet Mousavi supporters. Of course, these oppressive actions play exactly into Mousavi’s accusations. Furthermore, Ahmadinejad has shown little tact in addressing the opposition, who obviously need some more of reconciliation gesture, regardless of the elections legitimacy. Although predictions are futile until the results  of the recount confirm or ovberturn Ahmadinejad’s elections, short of a major political uprising, the international community should expect more of the same from Iran.

Imran Malik
Minaret of Freedom Institute


Minaret of Freedom Institute Program Assistant






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