Maya Neyestani on today's "historic" election
2055 GMT: And now a good-news story from the elections....
The 100-year-old man in Hamedan voted and died (see 1215 GMT), and the 95-year-old man in Damavand said, ""God, please accept this vote from me" and passed away (see 1645), but the 117-year-old man in Gonbad-e Qabus cast his ballot and lived.
2030 GMT: Well, I now have first-hand experience of how Iranian media handle news and analysis about this election.
Fars has not only noted my interview with BBC Persian; they are presenting it as if I had spoken to them. The headline is a selective extract, reflecting Fars' emphasis, of my comments, "The Western Leaders Don't Have a Clear Understanding of the Iranian Elections".
To be fair, Fars does fairly repeat some of my remarks, such as this election is too complex to be "Conservatives v. Clergy" and "The election is less about foreign policy than it is about Iran's internal affairs, economics, political accountability, and even topics such as judicial and legal rights."
What is interesting is what is left out or abbreviated. Fars' "interview" forgets to include my remarks that this election --- crucially --- is about the legitimacy of not only the Government but also the regime. And while the site does accurately mention my comment, "Reformists had no chance in this election of achieving some kind of political power", it indicates this was the main reason for their boycott of the vote --- conveniently omitting the rest of my analysis that the strategy was to raise question marks about the regime: "The message, following the 2009 Presidential election protests ie not just "Where is my vote?" but "Where is my government's responsibility?"
2005 GMT: Tehran Bureau offers an interesting snapshot from an Iranian contact, in light of former President Rafsanjani's provocative observation as he voted, "God willing, the result will be what the people voted for": "No one expected to see [Rafsanjani] voting, but, then again, no one expected him to actually confirm the fraud in the 2009 election [by making the statement]."
The website also adds more testimony to question the regime's narrative of a large turnout:
I checked 5 voting places in Tehran. In the first one which was in a school, a few people were voting and in the second place (metro station) I just saw about 5-10 people. In another place in a mosque I saw a short line of people....They went in and voted easily and were back and there was no long line....In all the places that I saw, I did not see a long line or crowd of people.
Observations such as this put the curious headline of the Financial Times into perspective, "Iran Parliamentary Polls See High Turnout". Even the opening paragraph of the article, "Millions of Iranians voted to elect a new parliament," does not necessarily uphold this --- since "millions" out of the 50 million who are registered could still be a low percentage --- and there is no evidence offered to support the claim.
1950 GMT: I had a long chat with BBC Persian this afternoon about the election and the wider political situation in Iran. The site has chosen the headline, "Ahmadinejad and His Followers Are in Defensive Mode". Extracts include, "I'm not sure the West's leaders fully understand what is going on in the national elections, amidst the complex power struggle between different factions of conservatives and principlists in Iran", and "The Iranian [Supreme] Leader is seeking a weak Parliament, so he is in favour of a variety of candidates across the [conservative/principlist] spectrum [in the next Majlis]."
1825 GMT: So how can you report an election if you are put onto a bus, escorted by officials, and then shut away in your hotel room? (see 1800 GMT)
Well, the option for news services today has been the use of eyewitness testimony in Tehran, as in Deutsche Welle's report (see 1425). So The Wall Street Journal can write:
In middle-class and affluent neighborhoods many polling stations were empty or turnout minimal, according to witness accounts. One polling stations in northern Tehran said by midafternoon that no one had cast a ballot in the giant plastic box set on the table.
"Elections in our country is like a comedy show for me. They are all acting, so why should I participate?" said a 32-year-old woman in Tajrish, a middle-class enclave in northern Tehran, as she was shopping for the coming Persian New Year.
And from Tehran Bureau:
The voting is even worse than we thought. I am reporting from a neighborhood in southern Tehran. Our house is close to a polling station. In the June 2009 [presidential] election, the station was so crowded the entire day and there was always a long line of people waiting to vote. But today there is nothing of the sort. People come one by one and there is no crowd. Most people who do vote are old people and very religious women with chadors.
That figure is more than the 60% threshold held up by regime figures, and it is remarkably closed to the 65.5% forecast by Fars this week.
1800 GMT: The regime proclaimed earlier this week that more than 300 foreign journalists would be covering the elections. In the end, 80 visas were granted and this is how the reporters were "allowed" to do their jobs, according to one journalist:
I have never been corralled like this. Ershad (the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance) issued 80 visas to foreign media, and we all agree this is the most tightly controlled we've ever seen it.
Apart from the fact that people are very much afraid to talk in public, we have been constantly monitored and harassed.
Every time we got out of a vehicle to shoot anything this week, even innocuous stuff like campaign posters, we were stopped within minutes by police or security and asked for our papers. We had them of course, but the parlay took up much valuable time.
This morning first thing we were bused to ten polling stations. It felt like a Potemkin tour. One in north Tehran, a couple in the south, one near the Armenian church, one where Jews would be voting and so on. We needed to get away early to write a piece for morning show, and the Ershad people were very unhappy about that. They said we had to go back to the hotel only and that we weren't allowed to go to any other polling stations. Clearly they were afraid we'd see empty polling stations.
One of my colleagues who has excellent contacts here and writes for a well-known U.S. publication came to write a piece about Iranian politicians. She can't get an interview with anyone, not even the less important MPs. There seems to have been a general gag order.
When I got back to the hotel tonight, there was a note under the door telling us that our authorizations to work here will expire on March 4 and that we should not overstay our permissions (even though my visa is good until the 5th!)
Bill Spindle of The Wall Street Journal offers further insight:
Foreign journalists covering the elections were limited in where they could go or to whom they could speak. Dozens of foreign journalists were loaded onto buses on Friday morning, delivered to three voting stations and warned not to visit others on their own.
Those polling centers—one each in the south, east and central Tehran --- were bustling with activity.
Lines of voters spilled outside the doors, while swarms of television, radio and print journalists reported the scene. Foreign journalists quizzed local voters and local journalists eagerly interviewed international journalists for their impressions.
1715 GMT: Picture of the Day. Could this be a breakthrough in US-Iran relations? This man is voting in a T-Shirt with the picture an American flag. With the inscription "God Bless America". Linked to the tour of country-and-western singer Toby Keith, known for lyrics like these:
'Cos we'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way.
1645 GMT: Earlier we reported (see 1215 GMT) the story in Iranian media that a 100-year-old man had cast his ballot in Hamedan, then passed away. Now Fars claims that a 95-year-old man in Damavand expired as he said, "God, please accept this vote from me."
1615 GMT: It looks like polling hours will be further extended. The election manager for Tehran, claiming that "participation is beyond expectation", has said stations could be open until 10 p.m. local (1830 GMT).
(The polls were later extended to 11 p.m.)
We anticipated this step, possibly to cover a far-from-high turnout (see 1117 GMT).
1425 GMT: Germany's Deutsche Welle reports, from eyewitnesses throughout Tehran, that participation in the election is far lower than reported in State media. The site says the streets are busy with shoppers preparing for New Year, rather than voters.
1335 GMT: Thomas Erdbrink of The Washington Post offers the first indication, outside State and semi-official Iranian media, of a notable turnout in Iran, "Polling stations are generally busy, people voting 4 all sorts of reasons: support of leader, stamp in ID card, or for 'more freedom'."
However, he adds, "Still I know many people who are not voting, either out of conviction, or out of apathy --- it's all very hard to measure."
Meanwhile, Jason Rezaian, the Tehran corrspondent of Global Post, writes, "Visiting foreign journalists covering Iran election in Tehran have all been sent back to their hotels & told to stay put."
Khatami's supporters have denied the report.
1250 GMT: An interesting moment for Thomas Erdbrink of The Washington Post, one of the few foreign journalists who is not being shepherded on the mandatory "press bus" in Tehran --- "In Sadegiyeh [Square], I had a hard time with officials thinking they had finally found a western troublemaker, but was 'saved' by State TV people."
1205 GMT: A note about Speaker of Parliament Ali Larijani, who has been under a great deal of political pressure and may lose his position in the next Majlis....
Facing the criticism that he is part of the "sedition current", Larijani said on Thursday, "Some people asked me, 'Why did I congratulate Mousavi [for victory in the 2009 Presidential election]?' I have denied this many times, but they still continued. After a while another group published papers against me that I am one of the 'silent behind sedition'. I have to frankly say these people are the traders of sedition."
The messages say Motahari believes velayat-e faqih (clerical supremacy) is "dictatorship".
Motahari, whose high-profile criticism may win support in the Tehran election, has argued that the Government's illegal acts have put the Islamic Republic on the "Constitutional path to dictatorship".
The opposition site Kalemeh claims the Ministry of Education has distributed forms to students, asking them to get the papers signed at a polling place and then return them to schools. The effort is an attempt to ensure that the parents of the students vote in the election.
1145 GMT: A queue of women waiting to vote in Qom (photo by Kamran Jebreili of AP):
1117 GMT: Fars keeps trying, "Governor of Tabriz city in Northwestern Iran stressed people's high and fervent turnout in the ninth parliamentary elections, and said polling stations in his city ran out of ballot papers just a few hours after polling started."
So does the head of the Elections Commission, Soulat Mortazavi, "Based on reports that we have gotten from polling stations, the people’s participation is remarkable and enemy-breaking....Our observation is that, in comparison with previous elections, this has been unparalleled....The prediction is that that the nation will inscribe a new record in the political history of Iran."
1041 GMT: Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the Guardian Council's spokesperson, has claimed that the turnout at 11 a.m. local time was 8-9% higher than in 2008. He said people were coming to polling stations as early as 4 a.m.
Fars proclaims, ""The American and European reporters and journalists who have come to Iran to cover the 9th parliamentary elections are astonished by the high level of public participation at the polling stations....The western reporters are so shocked by people's high turnout that are rejecting Iranian reporters' call for interview."
Photographs, now from outside Tehran, do not exactly bear out these confident assessments:
And in the capital, there is no queue to vote, at least at this polling station:
With most of the democratic opposition’s prominent figures, including Mr. Moussavi and Mr. Karroubi, languishing in prison or under house arrest on trumped-up charges, reformist parties have announced that they do not recognize the legitimacy of a sham election.
We believe that this “engineered” election will yield a host of handpicked and servile deputies who simply do the bidding of the ruling elite. These so-called deputies will then be used to present a democratic façade to the outside world.
1028 GMT: Journalist Babak Dad observes that State broadcaster IRIB has "full coverage" of Ayatollahs Mahdavi Kani and Mohammad Yazdi, leaders of the Unity Front, but no footage of President Ahmadinejad.
Dad says that Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and the Islamic Constancy Front, generally seen as sympathetic to Ahmadinejad, "should forget about Majlis victory".
1020 GMT: Last night, an EA correspondent told me, "Watch for any announcement that polling stations will be kept open beyond the official closing time. That could be an indication that the regime is worried about low turnout --- at the same time, officials will say that this has been done because of the overwhelming response of voters."
Looks like he is on the mark: the Governor of Tehran Province has said that "the people are voting in such a way that an extension of polling time is inevitable".
1005 GMT: A handful of voters at a Tehran polling station:
And it's not very crowded as Ayatollah Mahdavi Kani, head of the Assembly of Experts, casts his ballot:
0925 GMT: A photograph of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who not only cast his vote but delivered a warning against fraud in the election (see 0835 GMT) --- an EA correspondent evaluates, "His body language is nothing like previous times. I see no enthusiasm or energy whatsoever. His face tells it all."
0855 GMT: In contrast to our correspondent's scepticism about turnout so far (see 0830 GMT), Sayyed SOulat Mortazavi, the head of the Election Commission, has said turnout is "good". At the same time, he asked election workers not to be strict with voters --- if anyone lacks a national ID card, they can use the national code or the serial number of their card to vote.
0835 GMT: Rafsanjani Warns of Fraud? An EA correspondent has had a look at the comment by former President Hashemi Rafsanjani as he voted this morning, "God willing, the election result is what the people want and what they place in the ballot boxes."
Our correspondent assesses, "Essentially, Rafanjani is warning about alteration of the results --- and he is doing so explicitly."
Meanwhile, Press TV seems to miss the important part of the former President's statement, headlining, "EC Chairman [Rafsanjani] Urges High Turnout in Majlis Elections".
0830 GMT: An EA correspondent looks through the photographs posted by Fars of today's turnout: "All this is rather speculatve and early but so far, it's the strict regime loyalists --- all the people you can see are close to the establishment. No sign of western-leaning middle classes yet. Definetely different from 2009. Queues look thinner too."
0819 GMT: An interesting power struggle behind the scenes....
The Guardian Council is claiming this morning that supervision over the elections is solely in its hands and not those of any external individual or body who can monitor them.
An EA correspondent assesses, "The Council is already building a fence against the Interior ministry and any attempts to start decalring results that the Council doesn't 'like'."
0810 GMT: We have also been keenly watching if the call for a boycott of the vote would be heeded by former President Mohammad Khatami and/or former President Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Rafsanjani has given his answer, casting his ballot in northern Tehran: "God willing, the election result is what the people want and what they place in the ballot boxes."
Khatami, amidst the refusal by many reformists to participate today, has not yet appeared.
0803 GMT: One story we are watching closely is a push for Gholam Ali Hadded Adel, the former Speaker of Parliament, to re-claim that position and eject the current Speaker, Ali Larijani.
Haddad Adel has a personal link to the Supreme Leader --- his son is married to Ayatollah Khamenei's daughter. While Larijani is also close to Khamenei, the Supreme Leader's office may consider Haddad Adel a safer pair of hands to handle the political feuding within the Iranian system.
To implement this scenario, Haddad Adel would come first on the list of candidates approved in Tehran. Meanwhile, Larijani may take a blow by receiving less than 50% of the vote in Qom, forcing him to go through a second round.
Fars backs up this theory with this photograph, "Big election meeting with Haddad Adel proves enthusiasm" of people":
A voter near Enghelab Square says, ""We are voting to get more out of negotiations with the West, a large turnout makes our country strong."
A young woman at Tehran University has a practical explanation, "I [need to] vote because my ID does not have any voting stamps and I got a job at the oil ministry."
0745 GMT: CNN's Ivan Watson puts the claim of the regime that more than 1600 Iranian and overseas reporters are watching the vote into perspective: "All foreign journalists being BUSSED by authorities to polling stations. No alternative. This is the 1st election I've covered anywhere in the world where authorities ordered reporters on buses to cover vote."
0735 GMT: The Supreme Leader is traditionally the first person to vote in the elections. A photo of the occasion this morning at his compound in central Tehran:
The Supreme Leader used the occasion to press the call for Iranians to vote, "Because of controversies over Iran and increased verbal threats...the more people come to the polling stations the better. The higher turnout, the better for the future, prestige and security of our country. The vote always carries a message for our friends and our enemies."
0725 GMT: A perspective beyond the ballot box from Human Rights Watch:
Iran’s parliamentary elections... will be grossly unfair because of arbitrary disqualifications and other restrictions....The voting for 290 parliamentary seats follows the disqualification of hundreds of candidates based on vague and ill-defined criteria, and opposition leaders are either barred from participating, serving unjust prison sentences, or refusing to participate in what they consider sham elections.
Iran’s poll is a fiercely competitive, bare-knuckled fight for power. Like the [US Republican] primary, the slate of candidates is confined entirely to conservatives, who profess commitment to the same basic ideology even as they rip their rivals’ will and ability to implement it. For the millions of Iranian voters that backed the opposition Green Movement in the 2009 presidential poll that reelected Mahmoud Ahmadinejad amid widespread charges of fraud, Friday’s vote has about equivalent relevance as a GOP primary does to America’s registered Democrats and Independents.
Karon's vision may be simplistic, but it is a lot better than this reduction from Sky News's Tim Marshall: "It's Conservatives v. Clerics".
First results for Tehran will not appear until Saturday, and declarations for other cities and towns will be made on Sunday. So today's foremost story will be about the turnout, which the regime is declaring will be above 60% --- a figure supported by outlets such as Fars, which has put out the precise figure of 65.5% --- but much lower in the capital. Any figure well below that 60% will be a blow to the regime's legitimacy. Expect, whether or not they correspond to reality, announcements and headlines that the public have turned out in great numbers. We will soon post a Beginner's Guide to the process, the candidates, and the factions. In the meantime, beware of any analysis that is trumpeting, "The Supreme Leader will win", "The President will lose", "Clerics have triumphed" --- all of which have appeared in the last 72 hours. This process is far too complex for such nice, neat conclusions, and it will take weeks for the political manoeuvres to play out. What the Supreme Leader is seeking is a "mish-mash" of results --- if no dominant bloc of conservatives and principlists emerges in the next Parliament, then the Majlis is likely to be a weakened force. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to avoid the pressure of impeachment over his final year in office, giving him time to re-arrange and bolster allies, so that weakened Majlis is far from a "lose" for him. But that is only our initial assessment, and today is only a photo-opportunity occasion in a long, drawn-out political battle.
First results for Tehran will not appear until Saturday, and declarations for other cities and towns will be made on Sunday. So today's foremost story will be about the turnout, which the regime is declaring will be above 60% --- a figure supported by outlets such as Fars, which has put out the precise figure of 65.5% --- but much lower in the capital. Any figure well below that 60% will be a blow to the regime's legitimacy. Expect, whether or not they correspond to reality, announcements and headlines that the public have turned out in great numbers.
We will soon post a Beginner's Guide to the process, the candidates, and the factions. In the meantime, beware of any analysis that is trumpeting, "The Supreme Leader will win", "The President will lose", "Clerics have triumphed" --- all of which have appeared in the last 72 hours. This process is far too complex for such nice, neat conclusions, and it will take weeks for the political manoeuvres to play out.
What the Supreme Leader is seeking is a "mish-mash" of results --- if no dominant bloc of conservatives and principlists emerges in the next Parliament, then the Majlis is likely to be a weakened force. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wants to avoid the pressure of impeachment over his final year in office, giving him time to re-arrange and bolster allies, so that weakened Majlis is far from a "lose" for him.
But that is only our initial assessment, and today is only a photo-opportunity occasion in a long, drawn-out political battle.