New York Times...As Iran Votes, Talk of a Sea Change
TEHRAN — Less than two months ago, it was widely assumed here and in the West that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s hard-line president, would coast to another victory in the elections on Friday. Many of the reformists who sat out the vote in 2005 seemed dejected and unlikely to raise a strong challenge.
As voters went to the polls Friday, that picture has been transformed. A vast opposition movement has arisen, flooding the streets of Iran’s major cities with cheering, green-clad supporters of Mir Hussein Moussavi, the leading challenger. Mr. Ahmadinejad, seemingly on the defensive, has hurled extraordinary accusations at some of the Islamic republic’s founding figures, but the tactic has served to unify a diverse and passionate body of opponents of his populist economic policies and confrontational approach to the West.
Some Iranians believe that the unruly democratic energies unleashed over the past few weeks could affect this country’s politics no matter who wins. Mr. Ahmadinejad’s radical policies and personal attacks, they say, have galvanized powerful adversaries who will use his own accusations of corruption and mismanagement against him. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei , Iran’s supreme leader, who has the final say in affairs of state and prefers to avoid open conflict, may force Mr. Ahmadinejad to steer a more moderate course if he is re-elected.
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Unfortunately, Iran’s election today presents the voters with no similar opportunity. There is no chance for voters to register their opposition to the theocratic system or tell the ayatollahs to go back to the mosques. The candidates have been carefully screened to exclude anyone opposed to the ruling clerical establishment; each is part of the Islamic Revolution’s old guard.
Nor is it likely that the votes will be fairly counted; indeed most analysts concluded that the 2005 election was manipulated to produce Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidential victory. Vote destruction and ballot stuffing are easy in a hidden process controlled by the Interior Ministry. And if all else fails, the 12-man Guardian Council has the power to throw out the results in districts where there were “problems” — problems like a reformist victory.