Juan Cole’s evidence that the Iranian election was stolen

I don’t know if many Americans are in doubt that the Iranian election results were falsified. Respectable “objective” reporting feels obligated to frame the issue as an open question.

(For example, Sunday’s NYT piece began: “It is impossible to know for sure how much the ostensible re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad represents the preference of an essentially conservative Iranian public and how much, as opposition voters passionately believe, it is the imposed verdict of a fundamentally authoritarian regime.”)

But any doubt I harbored was cleared up for me on Saturday by the estimable Juan Cole of “Informed Comment” and the University of Michigan with this piece, titled “Stealing the Iranian election”

Cole, who understand Iran’s regions and ethnicities, demonstrates with his list of “Top Pieces of Evidence that the Iranian Presidential Election Was Stolen,” not only the basic fact that it was stolen but that it was done so ham-handedly as to leave no room for doubt.

For example, while the majority of Iran’s population is ethnically Persian, it’s biggest minority (estimated at 24 percent) is Azeri. Mir Hossein Mousavi, is an Azeri. Unsurprisingly, Azeris vote disproportionately for Azeri candidates. Mousavi’s political strength was known to be in urban areas. But the official election results showed the Ahmadinejad carried Tabriz, the capital of Azerbaijan Province (which is Mousavi’s home province), with 57 percent of the vote.

Wrote Cole: “For an Azeri urban center to go so heavily for Ahmadinejad just makes no sense.”

In this post, within hours of the results, Cole had compiled his top six such implausibilities.

Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/15/2009 - 11:07 am.

    Of course, by the same logic, Obama lost the election to McCain.
    These are still suppositions, not truth.
    If Iran were a primarily middle class society like ours these arguments would be more compelling. As it is, it is still possible that Ahmadinejad’s demagoguery and appeals (backed by policy) to working class economic interests outweighed the less immediate and personal issues stressed by Mousavi.
    It’s just as likely that Ahmadinejad’s vote was inflated by fraud, but that he still won.

  2. Submitted by Brian Simon on 06/15/2009 - 12:44 pm.

    I read the Cole piece over the weekend. Here’s an altnate perspective from the Wa Post:


    “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.”

    Which is correct? Before reading the Post piece, I thought Cole’s argument was compelling. Now I’m not so sure.

  3. Submitted by Annalise Cudahy on 06/15/2009 - 01:03 pm.

    The word “evidence” is far too strong. These are “anomolies” or even “suspicious events”, but not “evidence”.

    Besides, whether or not the election was stolen is not the story any longer. What matters is that the opposition has taken to the streets long enough to show that they are a real force, and the government has given in to them in allowing the demonstrations to go unmet and in calling for an investigation. Clearly, the government is scared. That’s what really counts.

    Election fraud is only the issue to the extent that it motivates the opposition to create real change. If they believe that there was fraud, that’s good enough. Whether or not there was fraud may not be important.

    I find it very silly that Western reporters worry about things that are tangential to the real issue at hand, which is the power struggle. Even if all you care about is the implementation of Democracy, the primary concern is that the democrats gain enough power to implement it.

  4. Submitted by Mark Ohm on 06/15/2009 - 03:54 pm.

    The excellent website fivethirtyeight.com offers some statistical insight on this subject as well.


  5. Submitted by Charley Underwood on 06/15/2009 - 09:23 pm.

    Anyone care to compare with Florida 2000 or Ohio 2004?

  6. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 06/16/2009 - 12:50 am.

    To add to the most valid perspective of Juan Cole, don’t forget the voice of Pepe Escobar, “The Roving Reporter” and his coverage on ‘Asia Times online’ this past Monday morning; lead story…and in addition, his video interviews on realnews.com.

    Escobar has essentially embedded himself in the cultural and political structure of Iran by his numerous jaunts over there in the last few years. He is one powerful, investigative analyst covering the world… and in this latest scenario, the backside, the underside; the inside intricasies of the Iran elections which, in the aftermath, are heating up by the hour…plus, what it all may suggest of the greater picture.

    His points-of-view are detailed, definitive; animated by his cynical/whimsical style…factual indeed, but also, a pleasure in the reading.

    For starters, check out his latest June 15th video on realnews.com, “Struggle with Iran elite”, an on-going interview that enlightens and entertains even while educating the listener on the most cruel and crucial state the elections; possibly destroying any hope for change in Iran.

  7. Submitted by Brian Simon on 06/16/2009 - 11:15 am.

    Erik Hare
    “What matters is that the opposition has taken to the streets long enough to show that they are a real force, and the government has given in to them in allowing the demonstrations to go unmet and in calling for an investigation. Clearly, the government is scared. That’s what really counts.”

    Perhaps the gov’t remembers that they came to power when President Ahmadinejad and his peers were the rabble-rousing university students.

  8. Submitted by John E Iacono on 06/16/2009 - 12:04 pm.

    “If it looks like a duck…”

    The crowds in the streets pretty strongly suggest the duck has feathers.

    The big question is what will the ayatollas do about it. One hopes blood is not their answer.

  9. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 06/16/2009 - 01:20 pm.

    “Of course, by the same logic, Obama lost the election to McCain.”

    Is there any chance Mr. Brandon could explain that remark because for the life of me I cannot figure out what he is talking about or how Obama’s thoroughly documented victory is in any way in doubt. As Juan Cole pointed out, the Iranians didn’t even count the ballots, they just wrote down a bunch of numbers and called it for Ahmadinejad.

    Dr. Cole has also uploaded several more posts on the election and his insights are invaluable in trying to understand what’s going on over there. It’s also important to bear Obama’s message in mind: whether Iran is democratic or not is less important than whether or not they uphold basic human rights. Their last election was monitored by UN observers and was fair (if you’re OK with the mullahs screening the candidates), but their human rights record is abysmal.

    It should also be noted that these protests wouldn’t be happening if the US had bombed Iran as Cheney and McCain wanted.

  10. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/16/2009 - 03:31 pm.

    Mr. Gisleson–
    If people always voted for their own ethnic group, Obama would not have won.
    On the likelihood of fraud and the election outcome, there’s some interesting data (yes, data) from a pre-election survey cited in CNN:

    ” And Ken Ballen, the head of a Washington think tank that polled Iranians three weeks before the vote, said it was premature to declare the Iranian vote fraudulent.

    Ballen said his organization, Terror Free Tomorrow, surveyed 1,001 Iranians in mid-May. That poll found Ahmadinejad leading the four-candidate field with 34 percent support, while Moussavi trailed with 14 percent. The remaining two candidates, former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi and onetime Revolutionary Guards commander Mohsen Rezaie, drew 2 percent and 1 percent.

    “That does not mean that he would have won the election, and we never said he would,” Ballen told CNN’s “Newsroom” on Tuesday. “Many people think there was a late surge for Moussavi, and our poll does not reflect that.”

    But he said the poll suggested that Ahmadinejad would have had a “very large” share of the vote “and possibly enough votes for him to win.””

  11. Submitted by David Brauer on 06/16/2009 - 03:51 pm.

    Mr. Brandon –

    Watch the racism. Barack Obama is half African, half Euro. As ethnic groups go, he represents multitudes.

  12. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/16/2009 - 08:58 pm.

    Mr. Brauer —

    The great American reality is that Obama has more African ancestry than most Americans labeled ‘black’ — the ‘one drop of blood’ principle. I’m hardly the first one to term him an ‘African American president’.
    My point is not genetics, it’s how people DO (not ought to) categorize people.

    Tiger Woods has more Asian ancestry than anything else, but most Americans regard him as a black rather than Asian.

    My point was that ethnic identification does NOT necessarily predict votes.
    People do not make ethic identifications on the basis of a genetic analysis.

    BTW — almost everyone in this country represents multitudes — few people are of a homogeneous genetic background.

  13. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 06/17/2009 - 04:37 pm.

    Juan Cole addresses that poll here:


    I also think it’s somewhat naive to think that ethnic divisions aren’t much stronger in some countries than they are in the U.S. where class issues muddy much of that conversation.

    In any event at this point in time enough has leaked out that I doubt anyone still seriously thinks the election was not stolen. Dr. Cole has also written about that, including the remarkably fast reporting that simply could not have included actual vote counts.

    Iran is an exceptionally sophisticated country and their current problems exist solely because of our ham-handed interference back in ’52. They will de-theocracize themselves soon enough, especially if we keep our troops out of their business.

  14. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 06/17/2009 - 06:42 pm.

    My point was not that fraud did not occur (although obviously this has not yet been proven; just claimed).
    It was that the fraud may have inflated a narrow victory by Ahmadinejad.
    The question of exactly what happened in that election is still open (as it is in Bush v Gore, since a recount never settled the issue).

  15. Submitted by Ross Williams on 06/17/2009 - 08:31 pm.

    Its obvious that most “informed” western observers were convinced this was going to be a close election. They based that on the information they had available and their analysis of Iranian society. If the vote is not a fraud, then they were wrong. And they are no more likely to be correct in their evaluation of whether there was fraud, based on the results contradicting the same information and analysis that lead them to believe the election was going to be close.

    If you believed the election was going to be close, then the only alternative to admitting your ignorance of Iranian society is to declare the election a fraud. In other words, Professor Cole may have been right from the start or he may not know have known what he was talking about. None of us are really capable of evaluating the answer to that question any more than we are the election results.

    The real question now is how the Iranian government will respond to what is clearly a very large number of Iranians who are dissatisfied with the election and suspicious of the results. My guess is that, just as the political establishment in the United States rallied around the Supreme Court’s declaration of Bush as the winner in 2000, the forces for stability in Iran will do the same.

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