I'm a bit perplexed by the reactions from a lot of people whose blogs I read, or on my Facebook friends page. They seem utterly, absolutely convinced that the Iranian election was stolen, and as far as I can tell, based on absolutely zero knowledge. Yes, the guy everyone wanted to win is alleging irregularities, and sure the Ayatollah is acting defensive. Ahmadinejad is certainly following the first rule of avoiding a coup detat (To wit, "Don't leave the country")
But let's look at this clear-eyed here. Sometimes the good guys (or less-bad) really do lose fairly. Is there really much evidence that Ahmadinejad doesn't have the support of 63% of the population? Mousavi's a good guy, and it sounds like he ran a very smart, very technically sophisticated campaign - just like Howard Dean. And it's the technical sophistication that makes me suspicious: Iran is not a technically sophisticated country, much of it is dirt-poor. It's not unreasonable to think that he simply didn't have access to large swathes of the population, swathes that Ahmadinejad spent the last four years busily bribing and pandering to with his "death to Israel" crap: and don't think for a minute that that doesn't play well back home. The English-speaking blogging Iranians may not like it, but they're a teeny, tiny minority in that country - and reading what they say, I get the feeling that it's more embarrassment over delivery than content.
Meanwhile, believing that this 63% win is a deliberate move requires one to simultaneously believe that Ahmadinejad is simultaneously a political genius and a dribbling moron. (Wile E. Coyote: Super Genius) Seriously: you're positing that he has the brass balls and political skill to manage a freaking 13+% cheat AND be dumb enough to think that that would fly? But more than that, this isn't Diebold bit-flipping here, this is pretty low-tech voting: you know, secure. You need organization to cheat a vote like that, boots on the ground and a lot of people willing (or eager) to look the other way. In order to believe that he could do such a thing, you have to believe that a large part of the country is too backwater and uneducated to prevent it... and yet not backwater and uneducated enough to actually vote for him in the first place? I don't buy it.
The way I see it, most of the country is poor and uneducated, which is exactly the way the Ayatollah likes them. They've been bribed and pandered to for years, came to identify with the guy. On top of that, it looks like Mousavi pulled an Al Gore: he let it be clear that he considers Ahmadinejad to be a stupid hick, and that just didn't play well with all the folks who thought he was just plain old folk.
Now, I'm not saying that old Ahmadinejad didn't try to pad the numbers. But given all this, what's more likely: that he padded and cheated 5-6% extra and got surprised by doing better than he expected, or knew he was going down, and bilked em for more than 13%, probably much more?
Nah. As far as I can tell, the primary basis that we Americans have for decrying this election as a sham is the refusal to believe that Ahmadinejad can win a fair election. It reflects well on you all to think that highly of humanity, but you've seen the kind of assholes who can win legitimate votes even in Western countries.
Now, that's not to say that I wouldn't like to see how far Mousavi can run with this, maybe even bring down Khameini. But let's not kid ourselves that he's a virtuous aggrieved party: plenty of good has been done by sore losers, after all.
I should admit that there are (at least) two scenarios that brush aside my objections:
First, if Khameini set up the vote-rigging but handed over the operation to Ahmadinejad, that would be a whole new ballgame. In that case, he doesn't have to be brilliant to have the machine, and he can easily be dumb enough to misuse it, thinking that 63% is totally reasonable. That would explain Khameini's performance: first seizing the moment so as to try to bulldoze his way through it and treat it as a fait accompli, then (potentially) stepping back and realizing that Ahmadinejad had either a) been a total idiot in a way that did not bode well, or (more intriguingly) b) been more reckless than stupid and had double-crossed him and grabbed for power. After all, Khameini can't just admit to being party to this and so HAS to do everything he can to make it stick, but at the same time a 63% majority gives Ahmadinejad unprecedented clout in his new government. It's an interesting idea, and I admit that I'm fascinated by the possibility that Ahmadinejad may have just made Khameini his bitch, but I still don't think it likely, and that level of recklessness really doesn't square with Ahmadinejad working alone.
Second, this could be a combination of multiple attempts to rig the vote such that the right hand didn't know what the left was doing, and possibly also combined with an unexpectedly strong showing in the vote. End result: a series of supposedly easily-covered boosts (possibly intended just to force a runoff) turns into an obvious error. Occam is shaking his head gravely as I type this.