Habib Ahmadzadeh: Mousavi Must Say Which Ballot Boxes He Disputes

Last night, with the translation assistance of Leila Zand, director of the Iran program at the Fellowship of Reconcilation, I interviewed Habib Ahmadzadeh on the dispute over the Iranian election results from June 12. Perhaps you've heard of Habib Ahmadzadeh. He wrote the original short script for the Iranian movie "Night Bus," and wrote the short story "Eagle Feather," both drawing on his experiences as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war.

Like many Iranians, including many Iranians who didn't vote for Ahmadinejad and don't support Ahmadinejad, but whose voices have been largely absent from Western media, even progressive media, Habib is deeply skeptical of opposition claims that the Presidential election on June 12 was "stolen," and has demanded that the opposition provide specific evidence of its claims.

I have been reaching out to Iranians who have or can get specific information about what happened on June 12-13. That path led me to Habib.

Although Habib lives in Tehran, his hometown is in Abadan, and he has many connections there. He thought it would be easier to get a picture of a smaller province like Abadan, as an example, than a larger province. So ahead of our interview, he reached out to people in Abadan.

Habib talked to Mousavi's campaign manager in Abadan, Seyed Reza Tabatabaie. There were 142 ballot boxes in Abadan; Mousavi had 127 observers.

Mousavi's campaign manager in Abadan said: yeah there was a big fraud. Habib asked, was your number the same as the Interior Ministry? Yeah, he said, it was almost the same. But there was a big fraud.

Habib pressed him: what was the fraud? Be specific. No, Mousavi's guy said, before the election, they gave this guy money, they gave that guy money...

I asked Habib: do we know which were the 15 ballot boxes in Abadan that Mousavi's people didn't observe?

Habib answered: this is exactly what we are pressuring Mousavi to say: specifically where, which ballot box.

Habib notes that the ballots are counted in the polling place. So if there was a representative of Mousavi - or Karroubi - in the polling place, that representative should have reported what the tally was in the polling place to the local Mousavi or Karroubi campaign manager. [The opposition claims their reporting system was disrupted by the government's blocking of SMS messages. But Habib says: they could call on the phone, and it's now been more than two weeks.] The government has published the ballot box tallies on the web. If the Mousavi or Karroubi campaigns would say specifically where the problem is, Habib says, we could check it against the official tally.

Habib says he is sending letters to the Mousavi people: why don't you tell us your numbers.

If, on the other hand, as has been claimed without specifics, Mousavi and Karroubi observers were excluded from observing particular polling places, we should be able to match those polling places against the official tally as well, both to observe whether the tallies in those polling places appear particularly anomalous, and whether in the aggregate any discrepancies in such polling places could have affected the result.

Habib himself voted in Tehran. I asked Habib if he saw Mousavi's representative in his polling place. Yes, Habib says - Mousavi's representative was wearing a nametag clearly identifying him.

I asked Habib: opposition supporters are saying that the government took ballot boxes after voting without counting them in the polling place.

Which ballot boxes? Habib demanded. Again: let them say which ballot boxes they are complaining about, and let us check them against the official tally.

I asked Habib: opposition supporters are saying some ballot boxes arrived with votes already in them.

Habib pointed out, and Leila confirmed this, that this year the ballot boxes were plastic: anyone could see if they arrived with ballots already in them. Again, the question is: which ballot boxes are they complaining about?

Habib says: if we are talking about 11 million vote fraud [the gap between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi in the official tally], that needs a lot of people, even people to prepare food and shelter for all these people. How come we haven't heard about one such person?

Habib notes that he himself didn't vote for Ahmadinejad, he is just trying to get at the truth.

Habib notes that Ahmadinejad made many trips in the last 4 years in the small provinces. I have a friend, Habib says, who went to the provinces of Kurdistan. There were many people who don't know Mr. Khamenei, but they wanted to vote for Ahmadinejad because he came to their village. Tehran is not Iran, Habib notes.

Mousavi just appeared in public in the last two months. He was out of sight for 20 years.

Mousavi supporters say high turnout was because of Mousavi. But many poor people came out to vote in support of Ahmadinejad's attacks on Rafsanjani, Habib says.

Habib says: I spent my youth on the war front with Iraq. I was badly injured. I love my country. If I think either side is lying I would publicize it. I contacted both campaigns. I have not heard back from either one.

Habib says: My problem with Mousavi and Karroubi is that they claim fraud but they won't provide any details. My problem with Ahmadinejad is the violence afterwards. Both sides were not ready, Habib says. If Mousavi were ready he would have controlled his supporters and there would not have been riots. If the government were ready it would have controlled its forces and there would not have been police violence.

It makes me mad, Habib says, that the opposition says the government is bringing Hizbullah to beat people and the government says the Americans are doing a velvet revolution. We don't believe in ourselves. Only Lebanese can beat us up. Only Americans can do a revolution.

The most important thing right now, Habib says, is to pressure Mousavi to say specifically which ballot boxes he has a problem with.

So, let me second Habib's appeal. If the opposition or its foreign supporters have evidence that the election was "stolen," let them present it for all to see. Which ballot box do you dispute?

The obviously less testable claim I read from observers such as Farideh Farhi was that the results were changed at the national level, not at the local level. Do the released provincial results deny this claim?

No, actually, that's quite testable, because of the laws of arithmetic: you can only change a sum by changing one of its summands.

The national numbers are of course the summation of the local numbers. The government has published the ballot box tallies on its web site. The local tallies posted by the government sum up to the national tally posted by the government.

Therefore, either the government altered some local tallies, or the government's numbers are correct.

If the government altered local tallies to the extent necessary to change the overall result of the election, that should have been detected by Mousavi's 41,000 observers - that's why you have observers.

So, for example, I'm pretty confident that the government did not alter the local tallies for Abadan, because Mousavi's campaign manager for Abadan did not dispute the government's tally.

Mr. Naiman - and Mr. Habib - are missing the real point. The election was 'stolen' during the four years prior to the election, during which an already very fragile and limited system of civil rights was almost completely decimated by the current regime. Having coercively marginalized the opposition and all organs of public expression, particularly the press, prior to the election, the regime assumed, perhaps correctly, that the likely results would 'validate' their rule.

In this sense, and in this sense only, Mr. Naiman's position about the actual vote count is plausible. Not surprisingly, both Khamenei and Ahmadijenad expected to win, and choose to characterize that 'victory' as a public (and even divine) validation of their rule.

However, despite their purported overwhelming margins in the polls, the actual position of the government remains so weak that they can still only rule by repression. The recent post-election reaction, and resulting government-sponsored violence, is no accident, but a direct extension of the avowed policies of the fundamentally anti-democratic regime put into place in 2005.

If the current regime were truly confident that the latest vote represented an honest referendum on the popularly of their regime, they could easily have let the minority protests peter out of their own accord. But the protests, had they been allowed, would have further exposed the implicit and explicit lies they told the electorate about the economy and other social issues. As it is, to justify their brutal suppression of an apparently 'minority' position, they need to brand their opponents as 'foreign agents', also a continuation of the overall approach of the last four years.

Interestingly, neither Mr. Mousavi or the other losing candidates have claimed to have 'won' the election. Neither have they limited themselves to challenging the vote per se. They have instead expressed the idea that the election was fundamentally fraudulent, in some sense consistent with the position that dissidents took in 2005 when they boycotted the elections.

Now, you could honestly ask why the opposition decided this time to participate in what they viewed as a fundamentally flawed election. The answer is simple - for much the same reason as the government held the election:that is, to establish their legitimacy. After years of marginalization, the elections offered the opposition the only forum available to mount a coherent, legally sanctioned challenge to the authorities. And, at the beginning of the election, the opposition never expected to win.

That's because the Ahmadinejad regime, elected under an already much-weakened political and electoral system in 2005, spent the last four years by dismantling whatever was left of that system. They replaced it with what Mousavi characterizes as an 'alms' system- spending government (i.e. oil) money to buy votes, influence, and an apparently very tenuous civil peace, rather than make real investments that would address the people's legitimate needs and concerns. This is the classic corrupt third-world (and second-world) model that will ultimately result in a bankrupt country.

Therefore, whether the regime's resulting 'victory' this year is technically due to vote-miscounting or not is not especially relevant. It is certainly not relevant to those who recognize the fundamental fraud of the current system, whether they are inside or outside of Iran.

Finally, let's suppose someone steps forward to convince Mr. Naiman and Mr. Habib that the vote-count was rigged. Do they believe that the results would be accepted and publicized by the current regime, who would then willingly resign in disgrace?!

Similarly, suppose that nobody comes forward, or that, even more interestingly, someone is able to 'prove' that vote count was totally accurate. Would that undo the results of the undemocratic, incompetent and self-serviing policies of the current regime over the last four years, or the built-in inequities of the current electoral system?

In fact, whether the vote totals are true or not, the opposition will have exactly the same problem in the future, because they will in any case never have access to a truly fair and democratic electoral process while the existing regime remains in power.

In 1933, Hitler felt strong enough to virtually eliminate the electoral system and become dictator. However, had he decided, four years later, to hold elections, he certainly would have won, even with a 'honest' vote count. That's because he had spent the previous four years gagging the opposition, manipulating the social and economic system, and lying to the public. So, would having such elections have really made any difference?

Mr Mousavi and other reformists have clearly warned the government that their current policies place them on the wrong side of history, even if they can somehow scrounge up a majority of votes in a half-baked election through gagging the opposition, manipulating the social and economic system, and lying to the public. Their response? More of the same.

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