This is a quick overview of the events that have taken place in Iran over the past couple of weeks.
On June 12, 2009, Iran held their presidential elections. The president is the highest elected official in the Iranian government, however he has no control over foreign policy, the military, or security or defense issues. Those important decisions are made by the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khomeini. The Ayatollah also names the Head of the Judiciary and together, the Supreme Leader and Head of the Judiciary put in place the Guardian Council. This Guardian Council then vets each potential Presidential candidate. Only candidates approved by the Guardian Council may run for office. So while the President is elected by the people, it is a choice made from a pool selected (indirectly) by the Supreme Leader.
This election featured two prominent Iranian politicians. The first is the incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He has had a long career in Iranian politics going back at least three decades. He has held a variety of governmental positions and was a member of the Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution during the Iran-Iraq war. He won election to the Presidency in 2005. He has shown loyalty to Ayatollah Khomeini, however in 2006 Ahmadinejad’s party lost many seats in local elections. It was seen as a shift in national preference to a more centrist government. There is a two-term limit for Presidency, so should Ahmadinejad be allowed to sit for and complete his second term, he will be ineligible to run a third time.
The second major contender to emerge from the election is Ahmadinejad’s main rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi. Mr. Mousavi was the last Prime Minister of Iran, a post he held until 1989 when the post was abolished in a revising of the Iranian Constitution. He is seen as a moderate, appealing to both conservatives and reformists. He has the support of many prominent people within Iranian politics including former president Mohammad Khatami.
Almost immidiately, there were allegations of impropriety and on June 15 Supreme Leader Khomeini said there would be a recount. Mousavi has alleged that there are some 14 million unused ballots that have gone missing, concerned they may be used to rig election results. Currently, Ahmadinejad is reported to have 62% of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off election; a second round of elections run should one candidate fail to win a majority. Mousavi is reported to have just under 34% of the vote.
Allegations of corruption and espionage abound. A campaign office of Mousavi’s was torched less than two weeks before the election. There was also an alleged assassinations attempt made on former president Khatami’s life after a bomb was said to have been found on-board the plane in which he was travelling. There have also been accusations that vote counts in some cities around the country are higher than the populations of those cities; Ahmadinejad was reported to have won most of the cities in massive landslides. Polling has been largely inconclusive, as most polls have been carried out by politically motivated groups. Statistical analysis, however does show some irregularities in voting patterns, usually favoring Ahmadinejad.
Since the elections, there have been wide-spread protests across the country and large-scale violence where protesters have clashed with police and security forces. There have also been allegations, by the BBC and others, that there have been attempts to manipulate the media through transmission jamming and, in some cases,political pressure.