What Happened in Iran?
As it turns out there was an independent nationwide poll taken in Iran three weeks before the election and the results of the poll were consistent with the election results. In their op-ed in the Washington Post Ken Ballen and Patrick Doherty, whose organizations produced the poll, conclude:
Allegations of fraud and electoral manipulation will serve to further isolate Iran and are likely to increase its belligerence and intransigence against the outside world. Before other countries, including the United States, jump to the conclusion that the Iranian presidential elections were fraudulent, with the grave consequences such charges could bring, they should consider all independent information. The fact may simply be that the reelection of President Ahmadinejad is what the Iranian people wanted.
Ballen and Doherty deal with the obvious criticism that respondents were only giving safe answers:
Some might argue that the professed support for Ahmadinejad we found simply reflected fearful respondents’ reluctance to provide honest answers to pollsters. Yet the integrity of our results is confirmed by the politically risky responses Iranians were willing to give to a host of questions. For instance, nearly four in five Iranians — including most Ahmadinejad supporters — said they wanted to change the political system to give them the right to elect Iran’s supreme leader, who is not currently subject to popular vote. Similarly, Iranians chose free elections and a free press as their most important priorities for their government, virtually tied with improving the national economy. These were hardly “politically correct” responses to voice publicly in a largely authoritarian society.
At this point this is my understanding of the facts as we know them. According to the official results, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won by a substantial margin. Those results are consistent with the findings of an independent nationwide poll taken three weeks before the election. Preliminary statistical analyses of the results do not satisfy a prima facie case for fraud as the determining factor in the elections. The structure of the Iranian political system is such that it is incapable of producing a legitimate outcome by our standards.
There have been rallies and demonstrations both opposed to the election results and in support of them over the weekend in Iran. The government has put down opposition demonstrations, frequently violently.
There are reports of detentions of opposition candidates, mass arrests, killings of opposition demonstrators, and the use of Arabic-speaking bullyboys by the government in putting down the demonstration. All of these are consistent with past incidents that challenged the ruling oligarchy but to the best of my knowledge they remain unconfirmed.
Some have questioned the results of the elections based on inferences about how people in specific regions might have voted. Those are certainly suggestive of some degree of vote fraud and I don’t doubt that some degree of vote fraud was involved in boosting totals for the official winner. I don’t honestly know whether that jiggering resulted in a change in the outcome or just a higher apparent total for the incumbent. Considering the known facts I suspect more the latter.
Rather than name calling or impugning the intelligence or motives of those who have arrived at evaluations different from our own, it might be more productive to discuss what might have happened in the Iranian election, relating our conclusions to the facts as we know them and clearly distinguishing among facts, suppositions, inferences, and preferences. Further, what do the facts on the ground portend for the relationship between our two countries?