The Latest from Iran (16 August): An Election Revelation?

1448 GMT: James Miller is back. Hopefully, he and his coffee will bring the “live” back to the “liveblog.” Luckily, Scott Lucas, despite still being on vacation, has sent a few updates to kick things off:

On the Telly. A poll in 31 provincal centres points to all the contradictions of watching satellite TV, which is formally illegal in Iran.

Viewing is up from 34% to 42% since last year, with those “very interested” rising from 28% to 34% and those with “no interest” falling from 40% to 35%.

Interestingly, 70% of the respondents say the goals of satellite TV are anti-cultural, weakening religion and inciting to unrest. Which, as a commentator notes, raises the question: “Why do 42% watch it anyway?”

A side note: in northwest Iran, 50% of those sampled say they watch Turkish TV…

0742 GMT: Foreign Fail (Britain Edition). The Guardian has a bit of fun with the regime’s “Britain is Collapsing” theme.

The newspaper notes that claimed images of this month’s unrest in England included a September 2010 photo alongside a story abot security plans for a football match and a street filled with police at the 2008 Notting Hill Carnival (which did not turn into a protest for the overthrow of the monarchy).

The prize for most creative use of a display of the oppression of Britain’s masses in 2011, however, had to be an image of police in the miners’ strike…of 1984.

And then were the examples of British unrest thousands of miles from Britain. There was the shot of a 2009 protest in Washington in support of Palestinians. And a road sign in Spanish may have been a clue that a photograph was from Chile.

0714 GMT: Foreign Affairs (British Front). Pro-regime protesters, in front of the British Embassy, modify a theme from the aftermath of the demonstrations in Iran after the disputed 2009 Presidential election — they announce, “We are all Mark Duggan”, the man whose death at the hands of police two weeks ago sparked unrest in London.

In June 2009, supporters of the Iranian protesters declared, “We are all Neda”, in memory of Neda Agha Soltan, the philosophy student killed by a Basij militiaman as she watched a mass protest.

0709 GMT: Economy Watch. The Government may have relented and allowed publication of inflation figures, but now it faces a challenge on economic performance. Parliament’s Research Center comments:

One can’t accept that 765,000 jobs were created with around 6% growth during the first years of the fourth development plan (2005-2009), while 1% growth has created 1,600,000 jobs [since then]….Lack of strategy and a comprehensive investment planning guiding the investors has led to non-creative activities in various forms.

President Ahmadinejad has declared that 2.5 million new jobs will be generated this year.

0704 GMT: Pick a Number. After a two-month lapse in any official mention of inflation, the Central Bank has announced that the rate is 16.3%, up from 14.5% in April/May.

Stories had circulated that President Ahmadinejad had forbidden the Bank from issuing official statements on inflation.

0702 GMT: Fashion Fail. The political rumbling over hijab — started by a special section in a pro-Ahmadinejad newspaper which appeared to criticise compulsory fashion for women — continues.

Mehdi Kalhor, the former senior Presidential advisor, was the focal point of hard-line criticism after an interview in which he apparently said the black chador, the full-length Islamic covering for women, was not brought to Iran by clerics but by a 19th-century Shah who had seen European women in black dresses at evening parties.

Now Kalhor has “explained” the troublesome comment:

    1. He was offering no religious or legal declaration on chador but making a “historical and aesthetic” statement.
    2. “Hijab is one of the necessities of Islam.”
    3. Anyway, the interview was from 2009 and not 2011, and he had not seen the version this weekend in Iran newspaper.

0700 GMT: Scott Lucas starts us off with a few headlines:

The item that caught my eye on Monday was the claim of the reformist newspaper Emruz of a taped “confession” by the President’s right-hand man, Esfandiar Rahim-Mashai, in a private meeting with Ahmadinejad supporters — Rahim-Mashai supposedly admitted that Mir Hossein Mousavi had received 15 million votes, rather than the 11 million “official” return, in the 2009 Presidential election.

The significance is more than an undercount for Mousavi — where did those 4 million votes migrate on Election Night? Not to candidates Mohsen Rezaei or Mehdi Karroubi, who had miniscule official totals. That leaves President Ahmadinejad, who supposedly was favoured by 23 million voters.

Now the immediate reaction could be Big Deal — if Ahmadinejad had only 19 million+ votes and Mousavi 15 million, the President is still the “winner”, even before the manipulation.

That, however, misses the bigger point — the crucial threshold for Ahmadinejad on 12 June 2009 was not the largest number of votes, but the support of more than 50% of the electorate. And 19+ million would have fallen below that mark in a contest with a turnout of 40+ million people.

So Ahmadinejad would have had to go into a second-round ballot against Mousavi. And as the 2005 election proved, when Ahmadinejad overtook Hashemi Rafsanjani, anything can happen in second rounds.

Now there are a lot of “ifs” here, beginning with a reformist source making the claim. But the claimed outline of this new election tale bears out the lesson we have learned for more thanm two years — the daunting scenario for the Ahmadinejad camp in June 2009 was not a Mousavi victory but the possibility that the President might now have taken a majority.

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