Iran, ctd.

IRAN, CTD…. Overnight developments in Iran were no more encouraging than those we saw yesterday.

The streets of Iran’s capital erupted in the most intense protests in a decade on Saturday, with riot police officers using batons and tear gas against opposition demonstrators who claimed that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had stolen the presidential election.

Dozens of reformist politicians were said to have been arrested at their homes overnight, according to news reports on Sunday and a witness who worked with the politicians. There were also reports of politicians and clerics being placed under house arrest.

Reuters quoted a judiciary spokesman on Sunday as saying that the reformists had not been arrested but had been summoned, “warned not to increase tension” and released.

Meanwhile, some foreign journalists were apparently being told to leave the country.

That’s rarely a good sign.

Meanwhile, there were some reports last night that former Iranian President Rafsanjani, protesting the announced elected results, “resigned from his posts as the chairman of the Assembly of Experts and as head of the Expediency Discernment Council, the two most influential institutions in the country.”

And the New Yorker‘s Laura Secor reports that “there can be no question” that the election in Iran “was stolen.”

Dissident employees of the Interior Ministry, which is under the control of President Ahmadinejad and is responsible for the mechanics of the polling and counting of votes, have reportedly issued an open letter saying as much. Government polls (one conducted by the Revolutionary Guards, the other by the state broadcasting company) that were leaked to the campaigns allegedly showed ten- to twenty-point leads for Mousavi a week before the election; earlier polls had them neck and neck, with Mousavi leading by one per cent, and Karroubi just behind. Historically, low turnout has always favored conservatives in Iranian elections, while high turnout favors reformers. That’s because Iran’s most reliable voters are those who believe in the system; those who are critical tend to be reluctant to participate. For this reason, in the last three elections, sixty-five per cent of voters have come from traditional, rural villages, which house just thirty-five per cent of the populace. If the current figures are to be believed, urban Iranians who voted for the reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami in 1997 and 2001 have defected to Ahmadinejad in droves.

What is most shocking is not the fraud itself, but that it was brazen and entirely without pretext. The final figures put Mousavi’s vote below thirty-five per cent, and not because of a split among reformists; they have Karroubi pulling less than one per cent of the vote. To announce a result this improbable, and to do it while locking down the Interior Ministry, sending squads of Revolutionary Guards into the streets, blacking out internet and cell phone communication and shuttering the headquarters of the rival candidates, sends a chilling message to the people of Iran — not only that the Islamic Republic does not care about their votes, but that it does not fear their wrath.