By Thomas Erdbrink and William Branigin
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
TEHRAN, June 29 -- A top supervisory body reviewing Iran's disputed June 12 election formally dismissed all opposition complaints of fraud Monday and affirmed a landslide victory for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, setting off shouts of protest from Tehran's rooftops but leaving opponents with few options amid an intensifying government crackdown.
The decision by the Guardian Council, a 12-member panel of Shiite Muslim clerics and jurists who oversee elections and certify results, was announced about 10 p.m. Tehran time after a partial recount was conducted in an effort to mollify political opponents who charge that Ahmadinejad benefited from massive vote-rigging.
Before the announcement, security forces, including members of the pro-government Basij militia, deployed in large numbers to prevent street protests, witnesses said. But that did not stop people from taking to their rooftops to chant "Allahu akbar" (God is great) and "Death to the dictator" in a form of protest used by the popular movement that ultimately deposed the shah of Iran three decades ago. Witnesses said the chanting Monday night was louder than usual, as Tehran residents vented their anger at a government that has largely crushed street demonstrations after declaring them illegal and threatening their organizers with execution.
In a letter to Interior Minister Sadegh Mahsouli, the head of the Guardian Council said members reached their "final decision" on the election results after an extended review, Iran's state television and radio network reported.
"The Guardian Council held numerous sessions and agreed that the complaints were not valid and has now approved the soundness of the 10th presidential election," said the letter from Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati. He said that "most of the complaints were not cases of vote-rigging or electoral violation or were minor violations that might happen in every election and can be ignored." He called the election "a golden page . . . of Iran's democratic history," according to an official translation.
The recount of 10 percent of ballot boxes went ahead over the objections of two opposition presidential candidates, who demanded that the election be annulled on grounds of massive vote-rigging.
The two -- Mir Hossein Mousavi, 67, who served as prime minister for eight years in the 1980s, and Mehdi Karroubi, 71, a Shiite cleric and former speaker of parliament -- refused to participate in a special committee set up by the council to examine their complaints. Their spokesmen said that the committee would be biased and that its review would not be sufficiently broad.
A final attempt by the Guardian Council to bring Mousavi before the committee Monday also failed, for unspecified reasons, said Abbas Ali Kadkhodai, a council spokesman.
Kadkhodai later said the recount, based on a random sample of ballot boxes, took seven hours and revealed no irregularities.
"As of today, the case of the . . . election is closed in the Guardian Council," he said.
Before the council announced its findings, Karroubi, a Mousavi ally who finished last among four candidates in the official count, reiterated his call for the vote to be annulled as "the only way to regain the people's trust."
But there was no doubt that the council would reject the demand, especially given that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had already ruled out annulling the result, declared the voting clean and endorsed another four-year term for Ahmadinejad.
At a small gathering in the house of an Iranian writer, people appeared resigned about the news.
"What difference was the council going to make?" one young woman asked a group of depressed-looking friends. No one offered an answer. Instead, people listed colleagues who have been arrested since the election.
"Why would they bring him in?" one man said of a journalist who was picked up in recent days. "I don't care if I am next," another man said defiantly. "What will they do to me?"
The uncertainty of the future dominated the conversation in the smoke-filled room. Some talked about spending time in the countryside. Others were thinking of leaving Iran altogether.
"There is no future here for independent-thinking, cultured people," the writer said. "Things are going to change very rapidly from now on, for the worse."
Iranian state media say more than 650 people are detained in connection with "riots" after the election. But the Paris-based International Federation for Human Rights says that more than 2,000 people have been arrested and that hundreds are missing.
On Sunday, nine Iranian employees of the British Embassy were picked up on accusations of involvement in street protests. Iranian authorities said Monday that five were released and that the others were still being questioned. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown called the arrests "unacceptable" and "unjustified."
In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said of the Guardian Council's action, "Obviously, they have a huge credibility gap with their own people as to the election process, and I don't think that's going to disappear by any finding of a limited review of a relatively small number of ballots." She added that "these internal matters are for Iranians themselves to address, and we hope that they will be given the opportunity to do so in a peaceful way that respects the right of expression."
Asked if the United States would recognize Ahmadinejad as the democratically elected president of Iran, Clinton told reporters, "You know, we're going to take this a day at a time. We're going to watch and carefully assess what we see happening."
Results released by the Interior Ministry on June 13 showed Ahmadinejad with nearly 63 percent of the vote, followed by Mousavi with less than 34 percent.
In an early indication Monday that the recount was unlikely to show anything other than an Ahmadinejad landslide, the official Islamic Republic News Agency said that when the ballots were counted again in one Tehran district, the incumbent had more votes than in the initial tally.
Branigin reported from Washington.