In June 2009, EA's Chris Emery --- now a faculty member at the London School of Economics --- was analysing the sudden twists and turns in the political situation inside Iran. And, on the morning of 16 June, he had a challenge on his hands. A day after the mass march of the Green Movement, the regime had suddenly announced a re-consideration of the Presidential election.
This was Emery's analysis:
This morning’s news that the Guardian Council has agreed to recount disputed votes only confirms that the Islamic Republic, at both a public and official level, has entered totally uncharted waters. It is impossible to know at this stage the degree of coordination between the office of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Guardian Council. However, it appears that, given the immediacy of the situation, the Guardian Council have decided that there is not enough political space to present a full report over the next 10 days (which they announced yesterday). Instead, the highly volatile atmosphere on the street demands immediate concessions.
At this very early stage there appears to be four scenarios:
1. Mousavi Declared Winner
This appears to be the second least likely scenario but the one most problematic for the Supreme Leader, who has already endorsed Ahmadinejad’s victory. For this to happen, Ahmadinejad would have to lose about 10 million votes. The scale of voting irregularity would then appear so brazen that it is difficult to see how it could be sold to the Iranian public without permanently damaging key institutions. It would require several high-level scapegoats, probably all high-ranking officials in the Interior Ministry and maybe some Revolutionary Guards tasked with guarding ballot boxes. Some administrators on the ground would doubtless also be fed to the wolves.
This decision would almost certainly bring Ahmadinejad’s supporters on the streets in huge numbers and potentially see as much, or even more, disruption and violence on the streets. The humiliation of Ahmadinejad, who has been packed off to Moscow, would be a huge boost to political heavyweights like former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, but it could spark a backlash from others in the political establishment, with hardliners playing the nationalist card by highlighting international pressure for a Mousavi victory. (To its credit, the Obama administration has so far done well to avoid providing this ammunition and would probably continue to do so.)
2. Ahmadinejad confirmed as victor
This appears to be the most-likely scenario. The Guardian Council may remain confident in the result and that any manipulation remains undetectable. They may have, before making this morning’s announcement, quietly taken soundings amongst Iranian elites and institutions to confirm these assumptions.
Ahmadinejad’s lead would almost certainly be cut, and the election would appear much more competitive, but he would still win outright. This would still ask some tough questions as to why the President’s majority was initially so huge and would probably still require some scapegoats.
This result would obviously not convince many core opposition supporters. Their reaction, however, could swing in one of two different directions. They could feel that, even with a re-confirmed Ahmadinejad victory, this unprecedented enquiry means the establishment can be pushed further. On the other hand, they could feel that they have reached the limits of what they can achieve. Meanwhile, the political establishment could see this gesture as their final offer and then crack down hard on any further opposition.
3. The election goes to a second-round runoff
This appears perhaps the second most likely scenario but would pose a huge political and logistical question for all parties.
Ahmadinejad’s vote would be cut to below 50% so he would enter a head-to-head contest with Mousavi. The numbers would be altered to increase the first-round vote for Karroubi and Rezaei, whose poor showing, even in their home provinces been greeted with extreme suspicion. Again, scapegoats would be needed.
A second-round ballot would re-establish some legitimacy without provoking the violence that would likely follow scenarios 1 and 2. It is likely that this re-run would be supervised by figures with substantial credibility in Iran (maybe Speaker of the Parliament Ali Larijani). Such a body was proposed for the first election but rejected by the Supreme Leader.
This would be expensive and logistically difficult, with much of the infrastructure on the streets and in the various campaigns is paralysed. There is certainly no guarantee that Mousavi would win, either. His campaign may want to go back to the polls quickly, whilst their supporters are mobilised. On the other hand, they may want a cooling-off period in which they can recompose their strategy, redefine their message, and normalise their communications.
4. Election is declared null and void and new election called
Although this is the option apparently favoured by the Mousavi campaign, it has apparently been rejected by the Guardian Council and is thus the most unlikely scenario. Writing off the first election as irredeemably corrupt and mismanaged would be enormously embarrassing for the political establishment and, again, even more logistically problematic. Would candidates de-selected by the Guardian Council be able to re-apply, would there be more television debates or campaign messages? When would the election occur and how would it be supervised to guarantee legitimacy? This scenario would, like all of the others, require heads to roll at a local and central level.
Again, there is no guarantee that Mousavi would win and there is a real question whether Mehdi Karroubi would even stand. This could essentially be a second-round contest between Mousavi and Ahmadinejad.
The International Reaction
The West, and particular the Obama administration, will cautiously welcome today’s Guardian Council concession but will remain prudently cautious until one of the above scenarios — or another I have missed — emerges. Most governments will hope for a scenario that will ideally remove Ahmadinejad and chasten the political establishment enough to offer future concessions to political openness without provoking a major backlash or instability.