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Violent Aftermath: The 2009 Election and Suppression of Dissent in Iran

1.2       The 2009 Election and Allegations of Fraud

On May 20, 2009, in addition to the incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Guardian Council permitted three of the 475 candidates who registered with the Interior Ministry to campaign and run for president.  One, Mohsen Rezai, is considered a staunch conservative, while the other two, Mehdi Karroubi and Mir-Hossein Mousavi, ran as reformists.

Rezai was once head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (Sepah-e Pasdaran-e Enqelab-e Eslami or Sepah). However, as an ally of Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Rezai presented a stark contrast to Ahmadinejad in several areas including economic policy. Rafsanjani was the fourth president of the Islamic Republic and is the powerful Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council.[17]

Mehdi Karroubi, the only cleric permitted to campaign, is a steadfast and vocal critic of the Guardian Council and the Judiciary. Now seventy-two years old, Karroubi is a founding member of the Assembly of Combatant Clerics and heads the Etemad Melli party. Founded in 1988, the Assembly of Combatant Clerics was approved by Ayatollah Khomeini. Famous clerics later joined, including Mohammad Khatami, Mousavi Khu’iniha and Mohammad-Ali Abtahi. In 2005, Karroubi left the Assembly to form the Etemad Melli Party and run for president.[18] He bitterly complained of election fraud after he failed to garner enough votes to make it into the second round of the elections.[19]

Mousavi was Prime Minister of Iran from 1981 to 1989. He was later appointed to the Expediency Discernment Council and served as an adviser to both Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami, but generally remained on the periphery of public life. Upon Mousavi’s announcement that he intended to run, former reformist President Mohammad Khatami ended his candidacy and supported Mousavi, whom he considered the stronger challenger to the incumbent, Ahmadinejad. During the official campaign period, from May 20 to June 10, Mousavi campaigned with his wife Zahra Rahnavard, promised to abolish the “moral police” in Iran,[20] and criticized restrictions on the freedom of expression. Much of the reformist movement and opposition coalesced around his candidacy and its campaign color, green.[21]

The 2009 Presidential campaign has been described by witnesses as vibrant and exuberant.[22] Days before the election, supporters of all the candidates participated in rallies and marches.[23] Some drove around slowly while chanting and displaying posters or signs supporting their candidate. The crowds were massive but peaceful. Two days before the election, supporters of both conservative and reformist candidates often chanted clever attacks and reprisals back and forth without much animosity. A witness described the jubilant last night of campaigning:

At one point we saw a car where the front seat occupants were Ahmadinejad supporters and the couple in the back supported Mousavi. Each would chant with the crowd they supported and seemed to be having a good time. Traffic was going so slow that we could walk alongside the car and talk to them. They explained that the couple in the back didn’t have a car and so they chipped in for the gas and came along to advocate for their candidate.[24]

However, even before Election Day, the Mousavi and Karroubi campaign offices publically warned of election fraud. On June 9, the campaigns wrote letters to the Guardian Council and released statements warning of irregularities in the preparations for the election by both the Ministry of the Interior and the Guardian Council.[25] Among other charges, they reported large discrepancies between the number of voters and the number of ballots printed by the Ministry, and that twice the number of validation stamps had been manufactured and distributed. The reformist campaigns charged that these irregularities could easily be used in nefarious ways by election workers in small towns and villages who would be done early in the day and would therefore have a great deal of time on their hands.[26] 

In addition, in the months before the election, human rights organizations reported waves of arrests and harassment of Iran’s student leaders, trade unionists and women’s rights activists. In an apparent effort to limit debate and silence critics of the authorities, newspapers were closed, and access to internet sites was restricted.[27] 

The reformist candidates believed that a high turn-out would be an arbiter of their success. Mehdi Karroubi’s campaign manager, Qolam Hossein Karbaschi, argued that the incumbent’s chances of winning were significantly lower if more than 32 million members of the electorate participated. Mahdi Rahmanian, a campaign manager for Mousavi, expressed confidence that “a high turnout would make Mousavi a definite winner.”[28] 

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Sexual Violence, Death Penalty, Political Killings, Executions, Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, Punishment, Personal Liberty, Arbitrary Detention, Travel Restrictions, Due Process, Right to an Attorney, Illegal Search and Seizure, Free Speech, Right to Protest, Protests, Political Freedom, Equality Before the Law, Discrimination, Reports