Four years ago, in June 2005, the Iranian presidential election was rigged, too, and the outcome was the same: Dr. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the candidate most favored by conservative hard-liners, won unexpectedly. This "no-chance candidate" had come out of the blue and defeated the moderate and more experienced Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. But this had only been possible after direct intervention by hardline cleric and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the regime's notorious paramilitary "Basij militia."
Shortly before the June 2005 elections there was a high-level secret meeting at Khamenei's residence in Tehran. It was then and there that a decision was taken according to which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an obscure mayor of Tehran, was to be the most preferable presidential candidate. He should be supported at all cost. Subsequently, the powerful "Basij militia" was quickly mobilized on behalf of Ahmadinejad's election campaign. The Basij are extremely fanatic and well-trained young men and women willing to use violence to quell uprisings and intimidate or even kill so-called moderates. It is their duty to show "maximum presence" in elections and "promote political understanding so the best choices are made." In other words, put pressure on voters to vote for the right candidate, intimidate them and rig the election by any means possible if a moderate candidate has somehow won. (In attacks on demonstrators in Tehran members of the Basij stabbed arms of protesters with razors, one of their favorite weapons.)
The Basij Militia is part of the so-called Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, an equally fanatical paramilitary force which is totally dedicated to the regime's hard-liners and in charge of security and domestic repression. It is also their duty to fight alongside the army in case of war. The well-armed Revolutionary Guards are roughly comparable to the Nazi SS in Hitler's Third Reich.
In his biography of Ahmadinejad Iranian journalist Kasra Naji decribes the attempts to manipulate the election result. When these results were reported on state television on June 18, 2005, a report from inside the election headquarters stated that, according to the Guardian Council (a hardline supervising body), more than 21 million votes had been counted and that Rafsanjani was in the lead. Within minutes, however, another report was delivered repeating a statement from the Interior Ministry that 15 million votes had been counted and that Rafsanjani was leading, followed by Mehdi Karroubi (another candidate), says Kasra Naji. "This result seemed to chime more closely with the findings of pre-election polls and the media understanding of the presidential race."
"Seconds later, the reporter was back on the air. This time he confirmed that his earlier announcenent had been correct: 21 votes had been counted and it was Ahmadinejad who was trailing Rafsanjani. The discrepancy was roughly 6 million votes." "Why was the Guardian Council annoucing the results while it had only a supervisory role?"
The Basij Militia and the Revolutionary Guard had stuffed the ballot box for Ahmadinejad, Karroubi claimed. "Interestingly, in the province of South Khorasan 298,000 votes were placed in ballot boxes from 270,000 eligible voters," he said. Khamenei then accused Karroubi of "poisening the atmosphere." A fourth candidate, Mostafa Moin, issued a warning "to take seriously the danger of fascism." His reformist party claimed "that the Guardian Council had spent about $ 13 million in a campaign to mobilize 300,000 members of Basij to influence the voters" (Kasra Naji). Another reformist opposition group complained that the Guards and the Basij militia "implemented an operational plan that directed the votes of the people thoughout the country and in particular in small towns and villages where political parties had no presence" (Kasra Naji).
As none of the candidates had secured more than 50 percent of the vote, a second round was needed. Rafsanjani had won just over 6.1 million votes, Ahmadinejad 5.7 million and Karroubi 5 million. Just like Karroubi, Rafsanjani, too, was aware of the fact that the election had been very fraudulent indeed. He even initially declined to participate in the second election round as he feared that the results would again be manipulated. He was finally persuaded by Ayatollah Khamenei to face his main rival Ahmadinejad in a second round. (Khamenei, no doubt, already knew that his new arch conservative "darling pet" Ahmadinejad would win.) Kasra Naji writes that Rafsanjani was unable to remain completely silent about what had happened: "When he announced he would stay in the race he issued a statement that spoke of 'a soiled' election and 'an organized interference" in the electoral process. His attacks did not name Ahmadinejad personally, but Rafsanjani did speak of 'those who are wearing the cloak of Islam inside out and are deceitfully engaged in defrauding the people by trying to portray their sick thoughts as original Islamic culture, and impose it on others.'"
So the second round was between Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad – on June 24, 2005. It was again a day of massive interference in the electoral process. According to the final results Ahmadinejad won the elections with 17.2 votes or nearly 62 percent, Rafsanjani secured ten million votes or 36 percent of the vote. (Four years later, the rulers would also proclaim that Ahmadinejad had secured 62 percent of the votes, whereas his main rival Mousavi had won nearly 34 percent; Mousavi even officially lost in his hometown Tabriz as well as in Tehran, although Ahmadinejad was – and still is – loathed by the population of both cities.)
After the second round in June 2005, Rafsanjani was again outraged. "All the means of the regime were used in an organized and illegal way to intervene in the elections," he said. So utterly disappointed was he that he declined to contest the results – knowing he would not achieve anything. Rafsanjani's senior advisor Mohammed Atrianfar said: "We have seen forms that were distributed among Basij members in some of the 70,000 Basij bases throughout the country that called on each member to bring out ten individuals to the polls to vote for a candidate with the characteristics of Ahmadinejad."
On June 26, 2005, Iran expert Bill Samii took a closer look at the obviously fraudulent election results:
"Analysis of the Interior Ministry suggests that something was amiss in the Ahmadinejad victory. There were 46,786,418 eligible voters, and 27,959,253 of them voted on 24 June, for a total turnout of almost 60 percent. The previous week, 29.439,982 people voted, for a turnout of almost 63 percent. In the second round of the election, Ahmadinejad received 17,248,782 votes, while in the first round he got 5,710,354 votes. How did he gather an additional 11.5 million votes in one week? Even if voter participation remaimned the same, and if Ahmadinejad received the 5,815,352 votes that went to the other hardline candidates in the first round – Ali Larijani and Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf – that would only amount to 11,525,706. It defies logic that under circumstances where there were fewer people voting, support for Ahmadinejad almost tripled."
Both in 2005 and 2009 Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei played a pivotal role in manipulating the election. A reformist cleric named Mohammed Khatami, had been president of Iran between 1997 and 2005. Khamenei and Khatami frequently clashed over numerous issues. (The hard-liners successfully blocked a number crucial reforms.) In 2005, Khamenei did not want another reformist candidate – Rafsanjani – to win the elections. "Never a reformist president again," Khamenei must have been thinking. That is why he decided to push Ahmadinejad after a secret high level meeting at his residence. The two have been close allies ever since. And in June 2009, the reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi would surely have won the elections had not the Basij militias and other powerful forces within the regime intervened – precisely as they successfully did in 2005.
Both Khamenei and Ahmadinejad share the same radical anti-Semitic and anti-Western ideology. Khamenei, too, welcomed Holocaust deniers to Tehran – and he did so well before Ahmadinejad became president. It was back in 1998 that French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudi – a former communist – was received by Ali Khamenei. Both subsequently appeared on Iranian television with Khamenei stating that Garaudy's "historical perspective" was a correct one. Thus, denying the Holocaust is not just an outlandish hobby of the current Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Six possible scenarios
What will happen to Iran now? There are, basically, six possible scenarios.
First, the Ceausescu scenario (paying a visit to Iran at the very moment when Romania was in turmoil). Romanian communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu had ruled over Romania for too long and brought nothing but economic ruin. His security service, the Securitate, was notorious. By the end of 1989, a small revolt broke out in the Western city of Timisoara. Ceausescu initially dismissed the revolt as insignifant. He expected his efficient Securitate to deal effectively with the opponents of his regime. The self-satisfied Ceausescu even paid a visit to Iran between December 17 and 19, 1989 where he was welcomed by the ayatollahs. (This reminds me of the equally self-satisfied Ahmadinejad who paid a visit to Russia at the very moment when the Iranian masses took the streets to protest the fraudulent election results.) The Securitate could not quell the Timisoara revolt, though. Ceausescu returned to Romania to address a large crowd in Bucharest. It was during this speech that some people began to shout "Timisoara!" "Timisoara!" This was the beginning of the Romanian revolution. The army was sent in to break the revolt, but it took only a few hours before more and more rank-and-file soldiers began to side with the people. They were not willing to shoot on the masses in the street. The Securitate did not hesitate to aim their machine guns at Romanian civilians, they killed even soldiers and officers. A few days later Ceasescu and his wife Elena were executed after an ad hoc military tribunal had sentenced them to death. (I later interviewed all the leaders of the Romanian revolution.)
Second, the Honecker scenario (rigged elections provoking widespread unrest). East German communist party leader and president Erich Honecker was a hardliner, just like Ceausescu. He, too, had ruled over the East Germans far too long. In the summer of 1989, more and East Germans complained about what were obviously rigged municipal elections ("Kommunalwahlen"). But the still relatively young Egon Krenz – a real hardliner – publicly defended the controversial election results. He did so on behalf of his mentor Erich Honecker. It was shortly after the celebrations of the fortieth anniversary of Honecker's "German Democratic Republic" in October 1989, that hundreds of thousands dissatisfied East Germans took to streets. One of their favorite slogans was: "We are the people!" ("Wir sind das Volk!") The East German State Security Service or "Stasi" could not deal with what now looked like a peaceful mass revolt. Realizing that the army would be unwilling to act against the East German people, someone probably took the wise decision not to allow the army to intervene. Honecker was deposed and succeeded by Krenz. The unpopular Krenz did not rule over the East Germans for too long, though. (I paid many visists to East Germany in 1988/89 and later also interviewed Egon Krenz and Hans-Dietrich Genscher who was the West German Foreign Minister at the time.)
Third, the Noriega scenario (rigged elections provoking widespread unrest and U.S. military intervention to oust Noriega). Back in May 1989, Manuel Antonio Noriega was Panama's strongman. It was then that presidential elections were held in this important Central American Country. These elections were won by Noriega's favorate presidential candidate Carlos Duque. But the elections were rigged and soon people took to the streets of Panama City. It was a huge but peaceful crowd. It did take long for Noriega's fanatical "Dignity Batallions" ("Batallones de Dignidad") to beat up and even kill peaceful and unarmed demonstrators. They were roughly comparable to today's Iranian Basij militia. The United States did not recognize Duque's election "victory." Instead, opposition candidate Guillermo Endara was recognized as new president. A U.S. military intervention followed in December 1989 and Noriega was captured and subsequently taken to the U.S. for trial. (I was in Panama in 1989 and miraculously escaped an attack by Noriega's Dignity Batallions; they were real thugs invariably targeting unarmed civilians.)
Fourth, the Tienanmen scenario (successfully crushing mass demonstrations in the capital). It began in April 1989. Inspired by the gradual liberalization process in communist Russia, more and more Chinese students and intellectuals began to demonstrate for reform in and near Tienanmen Square in the heart of Beijing. The demonstrations were supported by some influential moderate elements in the Chinese Communist Party who soon clashed with the hard-liners. Eventually, the hard-liners prevailed and in June tanks crushed what so far had been a peaceful protest. The troops were not from Beijing, though, but from some distant provinces. Later, there were show trials against student leaders (I was in China in June 1989 interviewing students in Beijing and Shanghai; I still remember how spooky it was after the crackdown.)
Fifth, the Milosevic scenario (ousting a dictator after peaceful demonstrations in the capital). Slobodan Milosevic, a Serb political leader, had been largely responsible for the dismemberment of Yugoslavia. He was a nationalist and communist hardliner who liked to stoke the fire of conflict by blaming the West for everything that had gone wrong. By the end of the millennium most Serbs had had enough: they now wanted change. In 2000, there were elections which were lost by Milosevic who continued to hang on to power. What followed then were mass demonstrations in the capital of Belgrade which eventually led to the president's downfall. Opposition leader Zoran Djindic created a new government. Finally, it was in June 2001 that Milosevic was transferred to the UN Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. (I frequently visited former Yugoslavavia between 1989 and 1999, covering all the major wars there.)
Sixth, the Khomeini 1979 scenario (another Iranian revolution to oust a dictator). It was after continued mass demonstrations on behalf of a banished cleric named Ayatollah Khomeini that Iranian Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi decided to leave Iran on January 16, 1979. Two weeks later Khomeini returned in triumph to Iran. Khomeini's Islamic revolution had largely been a peaceful one. The army refused to fight on behalf of the shah and the Islamic Republic of Iran – with Khomeini as "Supreme Leader" – was proclaimed at the end of March.
What is the most likely scenario in the case of Iran? A velvet revolution (East Germany, Serbia, Iran in 1979) is no longer likely. The protests in Tehran and elsewhere have been brutally supressed. An unknown number of civilians have been shot dead by the Basij militia and others. On Saturday, June 20, some protesters began to shout slogans, such as "Death to Khamenei!" and "Death to the dictator!" (=Ahmadinejad). Buildings of the Basij militia have been set on fire. In short, there have numerous violent confrontations in the streets. It seems to me, the situation is now roughly evolving along the lines of the Panamian (violent crackdown on opposition) and Romanian (rigged elections) scenarios. Whether the current Iranian rulers will be able rely on the army remains to be seen. It is possible that part of the army will refuse to kill innocent civilians and join the protesters (Romanian scenario). It is also possible that tanks or the revolutionary guard will eventually crush the demonstrations (Chinese scenario).
There are even deep divisions among the hard-liners within the Iranian leadership. Ali Larijani, one of the 2005 presidential candidates and the current parliamentary speaker, suggested on June 20 that some of the members of the Guardian Council "have sided with a certain candidate" – Ahmadinejad – in the June 12 presidential election. "A majority of the people are of the opinion that the actual election results are different than what was officially announced," Larijani said. "The opinion of this majority should be respected." This is not enough, however. In order to be more credible, Larijani should now speak out against the violent crackdown on the opposition, the killings, the arrests and the curtailment of press freedom. I do not think he will. The same Larijani was quoted in the Dutch evening news of June 21 as saying that "the West" must be blamed for instigating unrest in Iran. When it comes to being hostile to the West, the hard-liners still do close ranks. Moreover, the brutal crackdown continues unabated. Even Rafsanjani's daughter has now been arrested. And Iranian television now says that "13 terrorists" have been killed.
Emerson Vermaat is an investigative reporter from the Netherlands and author of several books on terrorism, crime, political ideologies and Islamism. He paid a visit to Iran in 2000. His father worked in Iran in the 1950s, as a United Nations expert on agriculture. His website is: www.emersonvermaat.com.
Kasra Naji, Ahmadinejad. The Secret History of Iran's Radical Leader (London/New York: I.B. Tauris, 2008), p. 72-90. An excellent study.
Emerson Vermaat, Nazi's, Communisten en Islamisten. Opmerkelijke Allianties tussen Extremisten (Soesterberg, Netherlands: Uitgeverij Aspekt, 2008), p. 216-218 ("Manipulatie bij de presidentsverkiezingen van 2005"), p. 231 (French Holocaust denier Roger Garaudi received by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in 1998, both subsequently appeared on Iranian TV). On Ahmadinejad, see in particular chapter 9 of this study: "De Iraanse president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: vriend van Hugo Chávez en ontkenner van de Holocaust" (Iranian President Ahmadinejad: Friend of Hugo Chavez's and Holocaust Denier").
Emerson Vermaat, Op Reportage, Ooggetuige in Oorlogs- en Crisisgebieden (Utrecht: Uitgeverij De Banier, 1995).
Bill Samii, Iran: A New Paradigm and New Math, Radio Free Europe/ Radio Liberty, June 26, 2005.
Dennis Deletant, Ceausescu si Securitatea. Constringere si Disidenta in Romania Anilor 1965-1989 (Bucharest, Rumania: Humanitas, 1998), p. 297-344.
Press TV (Iran), June 21, 2009 ("Larijani criticizes Guardian Council, IRIB"). Larijani's comments were made in a TV broadcast on Saturday, June 20, 2009.
NOS Journaal (Dutch TV), 2 June 21, 2009, 8 p.m. (Larijani)