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memri
July 7, 2009 No.
524

Elections in Iran – Part III: Tensions Peak in Final Days of Campaigns

By: A. Savyon and Yossi Mansharof*

On the eve of Iran's June 12, 2009 presidential election, the conflict between the camp of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the rival camp, led by Rafsanjani and candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi has escalated - to the point where Rafsanjani has called on the public to take to the streets and demonstrate against Ahmadinejad's accusations and Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) has threatened to intervene if Mousavi and his supporters try to stage a "velvet revolution" in Iran.

Following are details:

In a June 3, 2009 televised debate with his rival candidates, Ahmadinejad accused Mousavi and Karroubi of corruption and of getting rich on public funds and the nation's resources, and also accused Rafsanjani of plotting against him with the Saudi king. [1] Rafsanjani demanded an opportunity to respond to these accusations immediately, but his demand was rejected by the Iranian broadcasting authority, whose directors are Ahmadinejad appointees.

On June 10, 2009, the Iranian news agency Fars, which is close to Ahmadinejad, intimated that Rafsanjani's son was involved in accepting a bribe of €75 million from the French company Total, while Majlis member Ruhollah Hosseinian, a supporter of Ahmadinejad, accused Rafsanjani's son of having received a $15 million bribe from the Norwegian company Statoil. [2]

In a June 9, 2009 speech, Ahmadinejad continued his attack, saying: "Some claim that the era of Ahmadinejad is over, and that he has to go. I say to them... that the ones who should leave [their positions in] the regime are [the members of] the wealth and power gang [meaning mainly Rafsanjani, and also Mousavi and Karroubi]." [3]

In addition, IRGC political bureau director Yadollah Javani threatened military intervention in the event of a victory by Mousavi, on the pretext that Mousavi was planning a "velvet revolution" and that his use of the color green in his election campaign was an emulation of tactics used in other velvet revolutions such as the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. In an article in the IRGC weekly Sobh-e Sadeq, Javani wrote: "The use of a certain color for the first time in an [Iranian] election campaign... is a signal for the start of a velvet revolution... Any attempt to stage a velvet revolution will be nipped in the bud." [4]

On the other hand, the daily Jomhouri-ye Eslami, which is supporting Rafsanjani, stated in a June 9, 2009 editorial that Ahmadinejad's camp posed a danger to Iran, since it was "deceiving the people" by making use of "religious arguments" out of a presumption to "run the country in the name of the 'Hidden Imam.'" [5]

In response to Ahmadinejad's accusations, on June 9, 2009 Rafsanjani published a letter to Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei asking that Khamenei personally intervene in the conflict in order to prevent civil war. He argued that Ahmadinejad's accusations against himself and against other leaders in the regime warranted such intervention, because they were also directed at Khamenei in his capacity as supervisor of all government activity. Rafsanjani implied that Ahmadinejad should be impeached, like former Iranian president Abolhassan Banisadr, who was impeached in 1981.

Rafsanjani added that if Khamenei did not respond to the accusations, others would do it in his stead, and would take to the streets. He also intimated that Ahmadinejad's accusations had been made with Khamenei's consent. According to Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad's allegations about financial corruption were meant to cover up his own financial transgressions, such as the missing $1 billion and other budget irregularities. [6]

On the evening of June 9, 2009, Rafsanjani met with Khamenei personally to discuss the affair. According to Rafsanjani's office, he emerged from the meeting satisfied. [7]

In response to Rafsanjani's letter, the Iranian news agency Fars accused Rafsanjani of indirectly urging the people to take to the streets and riot. [8] The editor of the daily Kayhan, Hossein Shariatmadari, defended Ahmadinejad and implicitly accused Rafsanjani of treason, saying that by attacking the president he was collaborating with the opposition inside and outside Iran that was working against the government. [9] The student Basij at Imam Sadiq University in Tehran called Rafsanjani's letter an act of "unprecedented insolence," and suggested that the court investigate the allegations against Rafsanjani and look into his and his associates' finances. [10]

On June 11, 2009, Ahmadinejad, who received an exclusive right to respond on TV, implied that his rivals were using data from foreign companies, some of which belonged to the Zionists, to smear him with false allegations of corruption. [11]

Concerns about Election Fraud

Journalist Hossein Bastani of the Rooz website, who supports Mousavi and Karroubi, reports that Ali Akbar Mohtashami-Pour and Morteza Alviri, who head the Election Supervision Committees established by Mousavi and Karroubi, wrote a letter to Guardian Council secretary Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati warning of possible election manipulations. They stated that the number of ballots printed exceeded the number of voters by 2,600,000; that twice as many ballot seals as needed had been distributed to the voting centers; and that it was rumored that the identity cards of soldiers in military camps had been collected.

The two also criticized the holding of a secret meeting at the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the elections and which is headed by a minister appointed by Ahmadinejad. In addition, they condemned the fact that a third of the voting booths would not be supervised by police, as originally planned, but by the IRGC - in violation of the law.

According to reports, a group of senior Interior Ministry officials likewise wrote a letter warning about potential election manipulations by their own ministry. They implied that Ahmadinejad's mentor, Ayatollah Mesbah-e Yazdi, had issued a fatwa calling for manipulating the election results. [12]

In an open letter to Intelligence Minister Mohseni Ejeii, Police Commissioner Ismail Ahmadi-Moghaddam, and Basij Commander Hossein Taeb, presidential candidate Mehdi Karroubi expressed his deep concern about possible interference in the elections by the Basij. He stated that unlike in the 2005 elections, in which he lost to Ahmadinejad, he would monitor these elections closely, and inform the public the next morning of any irregularities, because "the results of the elections are not important; what is important is how they were obtained." [13]

In a letter to Khamenei, Mousavi likewise expressed concern about IRGC and Basij involvement in the elections. [14]

*A. Savyon is Director of the Iranian Media Project; Y. Mansharof is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] See MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 522, "Elections in Iran - Part II," June 9, 2009, Elections in Iran – Part II.

[2] Fars (Iran), June 10, 2009.

[3] Fars (Iran), June 9, 2009.

[4] Sobh-e Sadeq (Iran), June 8, 2009.

[5] Jomhouri-ye Eslami (Iran), June 9, 2009.

[6] Aftab (Iran), June 9, 2009.

[7] Etemad-e Meli (Iran), June 11, 2009.

[8] Fars (Iran), June 10, 2009.

[9] Kayhan (Iran), June 10, 2009.

[10] ISNA (Iran), June 10, 2009.

[11] IRNA (Iran), June 11, 2009.

[12] Rooz (Iran), June 9, 2009.

[13] Shahab News (Iran), June 10, 2009.

[14] Fararu (Iran), June 11, 2009.