News from Iran: Iran elections: Mousavi lodges appeal against Ahmadinejad victory
- View SourceIran elections: Mousavi lodges appeal against Ahmadinejad victory
Opposition candidate goes to country's guardian council after supporters claim result was manipulated
Ian Black and Saeed Kamali Dehghan in Tehran and Haroon Siddique
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 14 June 2009 17.03 BST
The defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi today launched a formal appeal against the election result as his supporters took to the streets of the capital again, raising the prospect of more violent clashes.
Mousavi, who claimed his defeat by the hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was manipulated, said in a statement on his website that he had appealed to the ruling guardian council to overturn the result, and urged his supporters to continue protests "in a peaceful and legal way.
"We have asked officials to let us hold a nationwide rally to let people display their rejection of the election process and its results," said Mousavi.
With temperatures at 35C, the situation in the Iranian capital threatened to run out of control earlier today, as special forces in riot gear chased protesters through side streets near Fatemi Square. In a sign of the anger among Mousavi's supporters, they chanted "the president is committing a crime and the supreme leader is supporting him", highly inflammatory language in a regime where the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, is considered irreproachable. Shops, government offices and businesses closed early as tension mounted.
Crowds also gathered outside Mousavi's headquarters but there was no sign of Ahmadinejad's chief political rival. Supporters waved their fists and chanted anti-Ahmadinejad slogans. Mousavi's wife denied rumours that her husband had been placed under house arrest.
"People are tired of dictatorship," she told Reuters. "People are tired of not having freedom of expression, of high inflation, and adventurism in foreign relations. That is why they wanted to change Ahmadinejad."
Mousavi's newspaper, Kalemeh Sabz, or the Green Word, did not appear on news stands today. An editor speaking anonymously said authorities had been upset with Mousavi's statements. The paper's website reported that more than 10m votes in Friday's election were missing national identification numbers similar to US social security numbers, which made the votes "untraceable".
The president, who will address his supporters in a victory rally later today, was dismissive of the protests in a speech. "These [protests] are not important and these are natural," he said.
He said Iran's elections were the "model of democracy" and accused "western oppressors" of criticising the election process. "On Friday's election, the people of Iran emerged victorious," he declared.
He also said the country's nuclear issue "belongs in the past", an indication that he would not halt the programme that western leaders believe is geared towards creating weapons of mass destruction, despite the olive branch offered by the US president, Barack Obama.
Tens of thousands of flag-waving Ahmadinejad supporters gathered in the capital's Valiasr Square for the president's victory speech this evening, as he attempted a show of force he hopes will quell opposition protests.
The US vice-president, Joe Biden, said he had doubts about "the way they're suppressing crowds, the way in which people are being treated", although, using guarded language, he said the US had to accept "for the time being" Tehran's claim that Ahmadinejad won a resounding re-election.
"There's an awful lot of questions about how this election was run," said Biden. "We don't have enough facts to make a firm judgment."
The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, said today that his government was worried about the situation and criticised "the somewhat brutal reaction" by authorities in response to demonstrations. The EU said in a statement it was "concerned about alleged irregularities" during Friday's vote.
Last night saw violent clashes after Ahmadinejad was confirmed as the winner of the presidential election on Friday, barely an hour after the polls had closed.
Protesters set fire to rubbish bins and tyres, creating pillars of black smoke among the apartment blocks and office buildings in central Tehran. An empty bus was engulfed in flames on a side road.
Police fought back with clubs, including mobile squads on motorcycles swinging truncheons, as protesters hurled stones and bottles at officers, shouting "Mousavi, give us our votes back" and "the election was full of lies".
More than 100 reformists, including Mohammad Reza Khatami, the brother of former president Mohammad Khatami, were arrested last night, according to leading reformist Mohammad Ali Abtahi. He told Reuters they were members of Iran's leading reformist party, Mosharekat.
A judiciary spokesman denied they had been arrested but said they were summoned and "warned not to increase tension" before being released.
Protests also broke out yesterday in the cities of Tabriz, Orumieh, Hamedan and Rasht.
Mousavi, who had been widely expected to beat the controversial incumbent if there was a high turnout ‑ or at least do well enough to trigger a second round ‑ has also appealed against the result to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But Khamenei replied that the election had been conducted fairly and ordered the three defeated candidates and their supporters to avoid "provocative" behaviour.
A second four-year term for Ahmadinejad torpedoes prospects for the freedoms and economic competence Mousavi had promised Iran's 72 million people, creating a vibrant, youth-driven "green" reformist movement which had been peaceful until last night's clashes.
Overt signs of repression included the failure of phone lines for hours after the polls closed and the blocking of the English and Persian-language websites of the BBC and Voice of America, which are regularly attacked by the Iranian authorities as "imperialist". Text messaging also failed.
Riots erupt in Tehran over 'stolen' election
Shock as Ahmadinejad claims victory as rival calls poll 'dangerous charade'
Robert Fisk: Iran erupts as voters back 'the Democrator'
A smash in the face, a kick in the balls – that's how police deal with protesters after Iran's poll kept the hardliners in power
Sunday, 14 June 2009
First the cop screamed abuse at Mir Hossein Mousavi's supporter, a white-shirted youth with a straggling beard and unkempt hair. Then he smashed his baton into the young man's face. Then he kicked him viciously in the testicles. It was the same all the way down to Vali Asr Square. Riot police in black rubber body armour and black helmets and black riot sticks, most on foot but followed by a flying column of security men, all on brand new, bright red Honda motorcycles, tearing into the shrieking youths – hundreds of them, running for their lives. They did not accept the results of Iran's presidential elections. They did not believe that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had won 62.6 per cent of the votes. And they paid the price.
"Death to the dictator," they were crying on Dr Fatimi Street, now thousands of them shouting abuse at the police. Were they to endure another four years of the smiling, avuncular, ever-so-humble President who swears by democracy while steadily thinning out human freedoms in the Islamic Republic? They were wrong, of course. Ahmadinejad really does love democracy. But he also loves dictatorial order. He is not a dictator. He is a Democrator.
Yesterday wasn't the time for the finer points of Iranian politics. That Mir Hossein Mousavi had been awarded a mere 33 per cent of the votes – by midday, the figure was humiliatingly brought down to 32.26 per cent – brought forth the inevitable claims of massive electoral fraud and vote-rigging. Or, as the crowd round Fatimi Square chorused as they danced in a circle in the street: "Zionist Ahmadinejad – cheating at exams." That's when I noticed that the police always treated the protesters in the same way. Head and testicles. It was an easy message to understand. A smash in the face, a kick in the balls and Long Live the Democrator.
Many of the protesters – some of them now wearing scarves over their faces, all coloured green, the colour of Mousavi's campaign – were trying to reach the Interior Ministry where the government's electoral council were busy counting (or miscounting, depending on your point of view) Friday's huge popular national vote. I descended into the basement of this fiercely ugly edifice – fittingly, it was once the headquarters of the Shah's party, complete with helipad on the roof – where cold chocolate lattes and strawberry fruitcake were on offer to journalists, and where were displayed the very latest poll results, put up at 10.56am Iranian time.
Eighty per cent of the votes had been counted and the results came up as Ahmadinejad 64.78 per cent; Mousavi 32.26 per cent; Mohsen Rezai (a former Revolutionary Guard commander) 2.08 per cent; and Mehdi Karoubi (a former parliament speaker) a miserable 0.89 per cent. How could this be, a man asked me on a scorching, dangerous street an hour later. Karoubi's party has at least 400,000 members. Were they all sleeping on Friday?
There were a few, sparse demonstrators out for the Democrator, all men, of course, and many of them draped in the Iranian flag because the Democrator – devout Muslim as he always displays himself – wrapped his election campaign in the national flag. Each of these burly individuals handed out free copies of the execrable four-page news-sheet Iran.
"Ahmadinejad," the headline read, "24 million votes. People vote for Success, Honesty and the Battle against Corruption." Not the obvious headline that comes to mind. But Mousavi's Green Word newspaper allegedly had its own headline dictated to it by the authorities – before they shut it down yesterday: "Happy Victory to the People." And you can't get more neutral than that.
Back on the streets, there were now worse scenes. The cops had dismounted from their bikes and were breaking up paving stones to hurl at the protesters, many of them now riding their own motorbikes between the rows of police. I saw one immensely tall man – dressed Batman-style in black rubber arm protectors and shin pads, smashing up paving stones with his baton, breaking them with his boots and chucking them pell mell at the Mousavi men. A middle-aged woman walked up to him – the women were braver in confronting the police than the men yesterday – and shouted an obvious question: "Why are you breaking up the pavements of our city?" The policeman raised his baton to strike the woman but an officer ran across the road and stood between them. "You must never hit a woman," he said. Praise where praise is due, even in a riot.
But the policemen went on breaking up stones, a crazy reverse version of France in May 1968. Then it was the young men who wanted revolution who threw stones. In Tehran – fearful of a green Mousavi revolution – it was the police who threw stones.
An interval here for lunch with a true and faithful friend of the Islamic Republic, a man I have known for many years who has risked his life and been imprisoned for Iran and who has never lied to me. We dined in an all-Iranian-food restaurant, along with his wife. He has often criticised the regime. A man unafraid. But I must repeat what he said. "The election figures are correct, Robert. Whatever you saw in Tehran, in the cities and in thousands of towns outside, they voted overwhelmingly for Ahmadinejad. Tabriz voted 80 per cent for Ahmadinejad. It was he who opened university courses there for the Azeri people to learn and win degrees in Azeri. In Mashad, the second city of Iran, there was a huge majority for Ahmadinejad after the imam of the great mosque attacked Rafsanjani of the Expediency Council who had started to ally himself with Mousavi. They knew what that meant: they had to vote for Ahmadinejad."
My guest and I drank dookh, the cool Iranian drinking yoghurt so popular here. The streets of Tehran were a thousand miles away. "You know why so many poorer women voted for Ahmadinejad? There are three million of them who make carpets in their homes. They had no insurance. When Ahmadinejad realised this, he immediately brought in a law to give them full insurance. Ahmadinejad's supporters were very shrewd. They got the people out in huge numbers to vote – and then presented this into their vote for Ahmadinejad."
But of course, the streets of Tehran were only a hundred metres away. And the police were now far more abusive to their adversaries. My own Persian translator was beaten three times on the back. The cops had brought their own photographers on to the pavements to take pictures of the protesters – hence the green scarves – and overfed plain-clothes men were now mixing with the Batmen. The Democrator was obviously displeased. One of the agents demanded to see my pass but when I showed my Iranian press card to him, he merely patted me on the shoulder and waved me through.
Thus did I arrive opposite the Interior Ministry as the police brought their prisoners back from the front line down the road. The first was a green-pullovered youth of perhaps 15 or 16 who was frog-marched by two uniformed paramilitary police to a van with a cage over the back. He was thrown on the steel floor, then one of the cops climbed in and set about him with his baton. Behind me, more than 20 policemen, sweating after a hard morning's work bruising the bones of their enemies, were sitting on the steps of a shop, munching through pre-packed luncheon boxes. One smiled and offered me a share. Politely declined, I need hardly add.
They watched – and I watched – as the next unfortunate was brought to the cage-van. In a shirt falling over his filthy trousers, he was beaten outside the vehicle, kicked in the balls, and then beaten on to a seat at the back of the vehicle. Another cop climbed in and began batoning him in the face. The man was howling with pain. Another cop came – and this, remember, was in front of dozens of other security men, in front of myself, an obvious Westerner, and many women in chadors who were walking on the opposite pavement, all staring in horror at the scene.
Now another policeman, in an army uniform, climbed into the vehicle, tied the man's hands behind his back with plastic handcuffs, took out his baton and whacked him across the face. The prisoner was in tears but the blows kept coming; until more young men arrived for their torment. Then more police vans arrived and ever more prisoners to be beaten. All were taken in these caged trucks to the basement of the Interior Ministry. I saw them drive in.
A break now from these outrages, because this was about the moment that Mousavi's printed statement arrived at his campaign headquarters. I say "arrived", although the police had already closed his downtown office – Palestine Street, it was called, only fitting since the Iranian police were behaving in exactly the same way as the Israeli army when they turn into a rabble to confront Palestinian protesters – and Mousavi's men could only toss the sheets of paper over the wall.
It was strong stuff. "The results of these elections are shocking," he proclaimed. "People who stood in the voting lines, they know the situation, they know who they voted for. They are looking now with astonishment at this magic game of the authorities on the television and radio. What has happened has shaken the whole foundation of the Islamic Republic of Iran and now it is governing by lies and dictatorship. I recommend to the authorities to stop this at once and return to law and order, to care for the people's votes. The first message of our revolution is that people are intelligent and will not obey those who gain power by cheating. This whole land of Iran belongs to them and not to the cheaters."
Mousavi's head office in Qeitariyeh Street in north Tehran had already been besieged by the Democrator's loyal "Basiji" volunteers a few hours earlier. They had chucked tear gas at the windows. They were still smouldering when I arrived. "Please go or they will come back," one of his supporters pleaded to me. It was the same all over the city. The opposition either asked you to leave or invited you to watch them as they tormented the police. The Democrator's men, waving their Iranian flags, faced off Mousavi's men. Then, through their ranks, came the armed cops again, running towards the opposition. So whose side were the police really on? Rule number one: never ask stupid questions in Iran.
Last night, all SMS calls were blocked. The Iranian news agency announced that, since there would be no second round of elections, there would be no extension of visas for foreign journalists – one can well see why – and so many of the people who were praised by the government for their patriotism in voting on Friday were assaulted by their own government on Saturday.
Last night, the Democrator was still silent, but his ever-grinning face turned up on the posters of his supporters. There were more baton charges, ever greater crowds running from them. Thus was the courage of Friday's Iranian elections turned into fratricidal battles on the streets of Tehran. "Any rallies," announced the Tehran police chief, General Ahmad Reza Radan, "will be dealt with according to the law." Well, we all know what that means. So does the Democrator.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the blacksmith's son and former Revolutionary Guard, who, since his surprise victory four years ago, has seemingly gone out of his way to play bogeyman to the US. In his first term in office, Mr Ahmadinejad became known for his fierce rhetoric against America and Israel, his proud promotion of Iran's nuclear programme and persistent questioning of the Holocaust.
In Iran, he benefited from a surge in petrodollar revenues and has distributed loans, money and other help on his frequent provincial tours. But critics say his free spending fuelled inflation and wasted windfall oil revenues without reducing unemployment. Prices of basics have risen sharply, hitting more than 15 million Iranian families who live on less than $600 a month. He blamed the inflation, which officially stands at 15 per cent, on a global surge in food and fuel prices that peaked last year, and pursued unorthodox policies such as trying to curb prices while setting interest rates well below inflation.
During the campaign, in a series of bitter TV debates with his three rivals, he was repeatedly accused of lying about the extent of price rises. Mir Hossein Mousavi also accused Mr Ahmadinejad, 53, of undermining Iran's foreign relations with his fiery anti-Western speeches and said Iranians had been "humiliated around the globe" since he was first elected.
During Mr Ahmadinejad's first term, the UN Security Council imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, which the West suspects has military aims.
Mr Ahmadinejad, the first non-clerical president in more than 25 years, basks in the support of Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called on Iranians to vote for an anti-Western candidate. The Ayatollah ultimately calls the shots in Iran, where the president can only influence policy, not decide it.
Mir Hossein Mousavi
Life for President Barack Obama would be a great deal easier if Mir Hossein Mousavi had won Iran's election. The man who was prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s says he would seek detente with the West, ask Mr Obama to debate at the UN with him, and floated the idea of an international consortium overseeing uranium enrichment in Iran.
On the domestic front, the 67-year-old architect and painter urged a return to the "fundamental values" of the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He advocated economic liberalisation, and pledged to control inflation through monetary policies and make life easier for private business. He has also promised to change the "extremist" image that Iran has earned abroad under Mr Ahmadinejad and has hit out at his profligate spending of petrodollars and cash hand-outs to the poor, which, he says, have stoked rising consumer prices. He also advocated removing the ban on private firms owning TV stations.
Mr Mousavi has been politically silent for the past 20 years, but he broke new ground in Iranian campaigning by having his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, a former university chancellor, not only join him on the stump but work for him. The couple even held hands at rallies, rare behaviour for politicians in the socially conservative state. His support was largely urban, and mostly young. He enjoyed also the backing of reformist former president Mohammad Khatami and apparent backing from Mr Khatami's pragmatic predecessor, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
He was widely expected to make a close-run thing of the election. But even as he was claiming a premature victory on Friday night, Mr Mousavi was alleging widespread malpractice in the conduct of the election. Where he goes from here – apart from into history – is far from clear.
Reformists held after Iran riots
Ahmadinejad Wins Iran's Polls Landslide
TEHRAN – Incumbent Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was re-elected Saturday, June 13, after winning the Islamic Republic's presidential elections by landslide.
"I am happy that my candidate has won," sandwich seller Kamra Mohammadi, 22, told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
"He helps the poor and he catches the thieves."
Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli said Ahmadinejad won 62.63 percent of the vote against 33.75 percent for ex-premier Mir Hossein Mousavi.
Iran's Presidential Race (Special Folder)
Ahmadinejad garnered a massive 24.5 million votes against 13.2 million for Mousavi.
The former head of the Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezai came third with 678,240 votes or 1.73 percent, while reformist ex-parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi was last with 333,635 votes or 0.85 percent.
Some 39.1 million votes were cast on Friday, representing a turnout of 85 percent across the country.
"The president elect is the president of the entire Iranian nation and... all should support and help him," supreme leader Ali Khamenei said in a statement.
He said Friday's high voter turnout was a proof that Iran "after 30 years is immune and unwavering against political and psychological assault."
"The participation rate of 80 percent and the 24 million votes for the president-elect is a real feast which can guarantee the country's progress, national security and lasting joy," he said.
"I congratulate... the people on this massive success and urge everyone to be grateful for this divine blessing."
But ex-premier Mousavi disputed the poll results
"I'm warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade," he said in a statement made available to Reuters.
"The result of such performance by some officials will jeopardize the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny."
Mousavi, who was hoping for a political comeback on a groundswell of support among the nation's youth, had complained of a shortage of ballot papers and attacks on his campaign offices.
"People are aware and they do not bend in front of those who come to power by cheating," he said.
Following the poll results, hundreds of supporters of Ahmadinejad and Mousavi clashed in Tehra.
A Reuters witness said that police using batons moved to disperse the demonstrators who were staging a sit-in to protest against Ahmadinejad's victory.
"We are going to stay here. We are going to die here," they shouted as one woman protestor was struck on her back by policeman's baton.
"I fear they played with people's vote," another woman said.
Some Mousavi's supporters accused the authorities of underhand tactics to give Ahmadinejad a second term.
"I fear they played with people's vote," said one woman as policeman beat some protestors with batons outside Mousavi's campaign office in Tehran.
"They have ruined the country and they want to ruin it more over the next four years," shouted the irate mob.
Analysts said that Ahmadinejad's landslide victory would disappoint Western powers aiming to convince Iran to halt its nuclear program.
"It doesn't augur well for an early and peaceful settlement of the nuclear dispute," said Mark Fitzpatrick at London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.
Ahmadinejad win sparks clashes
Robert Fisk: A divided country united by the spirit of democracy
Robert Fisk in Tehran witnesses an outpouring of democratic fervour and a divided country united by the spirit of democracy
A brave people went in their millions yesterday to vote for the next president of Iran.
They went for the right reasons and they went for the wrong reasons but they wanted a say in how their country is governed. In their tens of thousands, they waited in Tehran amid the sword-like heat of summer to insist that they had duties and obligations towards their society. Alas, the clerical blanket which smothers Iran will ensure that mullahs – not people – ultimately get their way. Thank you, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Not since the first free Iraqi elections have a Middle Eastern people so staunchly demonstrated their right to be heard. The last elections in Iran provided a 60 per cent turnout. Now some were saying it was 80 per cent, even 85 per cent. I found the mosques and schools of Tehran packed to capacity, the overflow winding back down the hot pavements and across the baking highways.
Never before in Iran – not since the Islamic Revolution that brought all this about – have I heard such a thunder of free speech. No, it is not a new Iran we are going to see, even if the favourite Mirhossein Mousavi wins the ticket. (Both Mousavi and the unbalanced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were last night claiming victory.) But it will be a little bit stronger than it was before. Please God, not a little bit more dangerous.
This new spirit could be heard outside the Issar School voting booths in Shaheed Mozaffarikhah Street – yes, of course this martyr died in the 1980-88 Iran–Iraq war, but then that awesome conflict had a lot to do with the turnout, as we shall see. "There are different reasons why I am here," Mariam Amina said to me, the less courageous voters – who didn't want to talk to the foreign journalist – listening to her every word. "I was not going to vote – I wasn't. But then I thought my silence would help someone who is not qualified to be president of Iran. And I thought my one vote would be worth it and that the person who becomes president would be a good president." Could there be a better reason for any democrat in the world to vote? The psychology student did suggest – unwisely, as I pointed out to her – that the British did not vote in such numbers "because they don't need to change their government". Corruption, I gently offered, is not
a uniquely Arab or Iranian phenomenon – but her courage drew others to talk. A trickle of words turned into a waterfall. Ehsan, his unwillingness to give his family name told its own story – got the day about right. "Maybe people aren't here for the voting," he said. "Maybe it's only a political demonstration against the regime. We don't have any way to say why we need to change."
Minar – suffice it to say that every woman was scarved or chadored, albeit with ever increasing fringes of hair glistening beneath the sun – thought the "unpredictable debates" on Iranian television had a role in bringing the people of Tehran on to their canyon-like streets. "No one knew what would be said on television. That's why so many people are taking part in this election. The Supreme Leader [Ayatollah Khamenei] didn't want those cameras but they were there."
They were indeed, and there was much conversation among the crowd as to why the long-dead Ayatollah Khomeini had laid this permanent crust of Islamic rule over a real democracy of the people. Ehsan thought it accounted for the failure of the Mohamed Khatami government, "the chain over us," he called it. "There are people surrounding the Supreme Leader and they are all in line with him."
Then came the shadows that always lie away from the blinding sunlight of Tehran. A man called Kurosh – "Kurosh" is Persian for Cyrus, as in Cyrus the Great – took me to the shade on the other side of the street. He didn't want to be heard. "In the case of Mirhossein [Mousavi], he might have a successful vote, he could save the country freely. But I think in the next years, there may be a bloodbath in Tehran, because there are two totally divided sides in the country. All this is silent at the moment..."
Quite so. On Thursday, for the second time in five days, the judiciary authorities closed down the pro-Mousavi newspaper Yaseno. President Ahmadinejad's boys were at work again. And as I drove to the poverty of south Tehran – you always know you are heading for the poor here, because all roads to them lead downhill – there were those childish posters of the ever-smiling country boy who is still – just – the President. Ahmadinejad running in his sports clothes, Ahmadinejad among his smiling people, Ahmadinejad playing football.
Inside the Hasrat Rasoul Mosque – and here we were definitely amid the poverty of the capital – there were three state television cameras (Ahmadinejad's work again, of course) and there were thousands waiting to vote, old bearded men, young labourers, half shaved, in dirty trousers, and on the other side of the "masjid" a row of women, their chadors billowing in dark clouds. "For Ahmadinejad, naturally," came the first male voice. "Because he's an expert and an uncorrupt person. I didn't vote for him last time because I didn't know him. But his plans have always been complete and successful."
What was this? The man who has turned Iran into a laughing stock, who clearly cannot understand economics – reporters do sometimes have to tell the truth – is "complete" is he? He is "successful" is he? Though at the end, that's what his election result might prove to be. Then 52-year-old Hassan Danesh revealed himself. He runs a clothing store in the Great Tehran Bazaar. Same old story, the bazaaris in league with the clerics, just as they were in the 1979 revolution. Then a shock. A veteran of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, white-haired now, Asghar Naderzadeh stepped towards me. He was a Basiji, a religiously inspired volunteer to fight Saddam, fought at Shalamcheh, arrived on the front lines at the age of just 14. "I want Mirhossein," he said. "The war veterans all know him as a good person. He managed the war perfectly and controlled inflation during this period." The old Basiji, it should be understood, were heroes and died for Iran. The new
version, the young men who never fought but cluster around the Supreme Leader, are a political breed.
Another man, after Asghar, nameless this time but voting once more for Mirhossein "because of the way he speaks, his promises..." And then, inevitably, the voice of conservative womanhood. "All the time, Iran is a victory for Muslims. Everywhere imperialism has intimidated countries. We are all supporters of the Supreme Leader and the [Ahmadinejad] government." Untrue. Samaya was voting for the first time, a job in public relations management, who had listened to all four candidates in the televised debates. "It's my responsibility to vote for my president, Mirhossein Mousavi. His personality is fit for being a president."
We were all being watched and listened to – at far too close quarters – by a young army officer, a lieutenant with an AK-47 rifle, unshaven but with hard, strong eyes. Was this Big Brother, coming to betray those who wished to speak their minds?
Again, another woman, 27-year-old Marjan, a student of English translation at Tehran university, in jeans and a long black cloak and scarf. "I love my country and I love my revolution and I would like a good president for my country, Mr Mousavi. He helped save our country." It seemed the 1980-88 war cannot go away.
An older lady now. "We want to protect the blood of our martyrs in the war. I am the sister of a martyr who died in battle at Fakkeh in Khuzestan, a housewife with two daughters and I want Ahmadinejad." Then came the classic illogicality. "I don't want Mousavi to be president because he's going to promote bad 'hijab'. We don't need more freedom for girls to go out in bad dresses."
She was not alone. Kobra, a nurse in a scarf and purple coat, wanted the same as the housewife in front of her. "I vote because of my beliefs, because of love for this country's Islam and for the blood of our martyrs. It must be Ahmadinejad. He is the icon of resistance and courage." This was extraordinary. Kobra was transposing Ahmadinejad from hero of the 1980-88 war – which he was not – into hero of the war against George W Bush, a war of threats, to be sure, but certainly not a war of weapons. And then Kobra surprised us all. "I think President Obama is approaching Iran properly and this will be accepted in our society. We want other people in other countries to acknowledge us as human beings. All of us believe in God, like the Christians and the Jews. You believe in Jesus, we believe in Mohamed. We are all the same. In this election, I am looking for a channel to express my ideas. Tell everyone that we love Western countries."
This was a deeply moving statement of love and belief to come from an Ahmadinejad voter but just at that moment, the army lieutenant came up to me, rifle over his shoulder. "We are persuading these elements that we are having a democracy in Iran," he told me. "But democracy is for people who know their own intentions. Iranian people don't know what they want. Democracy will not work here. People should be educated, then they know what they want. Don't you believe that?" I said that you cannot filter out the poor from the educated and let only the rich and the powerful rule. I guessed the soldier was a bright man – I was right, he was a mining engineer in civilian life – but then up came the man from the interior ministry and the man from the governorate and told the soldier he was not allowed to talk to journalists. And this was when Lieutenant Zuheir Sadeqinejad of the Iranian army replied. "I was asking the journalist questions," he snapped back.
"And I have the right to speak."
And I wondered if – despite his flawed argument – he wasn't the greatest democrat of them all.
The expats' view: 'I knew we had to come out'
With its patio cafés and millionaire mansions, Kensington Court in west London is usually more accustomed to the genteel comings and goings of its well-heeled residents. Yesterday it could have been mistaken for north Tehran. Thousands of chanting Iranians gathered outside the Iranian consulate to cast their vote – something that expats have rarely done during previous elections. But this year's presidential race has invigorated Britain's Iranians like never before thanks to the astonishing rallies of the reformist candidate Mirhossein Mousavi. Maryam Gol, who left Iran in 1974 and now lives with her family in Milton Keynes, was one of hundreds patiently queuing up to vote yesterday afternoon. It was the first time she had cast a ballot since settling in the UK. "When I saw just how many young people came out to support Mousavi,
I knew we had to come out and help them," she said. "People truly believe that change is on the way." If supporters of the conservative incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were present they were keeping their heads down. Instead the street was filled with hundreds of young, expectant Mousavi supporters in his green campaign colours and chanting slogans hoping for change. Students Fasilat Nassiri, 23, and Behrad Parvar, 25, were queuing with friends who all said they were voting for Mr Mousavi. "Refusing to vote is not an option," said Ms Nassiri. "I don't think things will suddenly change but there is a glimmer of hope. We have to seize that."
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces defeat if election not rigged, say Iranian experts
Iranians go to the polls today to elect a president after an acrimonious and volatile election campaign that has polarised the country and unleashed mass opposition to the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
In the absence of reliable independent opinion polls, experts predicted yesterday that Mir Hossein Mousavi, the moderate "green" candidate, would probably beat the controversial incumbent so long as the result was not rigged.
Saeed Lalyaz, a respected political commentator, said he believed Mousavi now commanded the support of 55-60% across the country and warned of a possible crackdown on the opposition if Ahmadinejad were re-elected.
"I worry about the impact of any announcement that Ahmadinejad wins in the first round," said Lalyaz. "Whoever wins, these people on the streets will not go home easily. If Ahmadinejad is president for a second time I worry about another Tiananmen Square experience."
Ominously, as three weeks of often passionate campaigning drew to a close, the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRG) warned that any attempt at a popular "revolution" would be crushed.
Underlining the unprecedented scale of public interest in the election, it was reported that more than 10m text messages had been sent on Tuesday alone, apparently reflecting intense efforts to get the vote out and avoid the risk of mass abstentions.
The regime is also encouraging mass participation. "The people of Iran will choose someone who will resist the bullying of those who are arrogant and defend Iran's interest in the world," said a statement from the Basij militia.
The candidate who takes more than 50% becomes president automatically. If none does tomorrow, a second run-off round will be held next Friday. Two other candidates, reformist cleric Mehdi Karoubi and Mohsen Rezaei, another conservative, would drop out if that happened.
Ahmadinejad was reportedly losing support to Rezaei, a former IRG commander, and elements of the military were said to be backing Mousavi, who has pledged to increase personal freedoms. A victory for the former prime minister could improve relations with the west, though big policy changes are unlikely.
Has President Ahmadinejad finally met his match in Mrs Mousavi?
Iran Guard warns reformist groups
The political chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard has warned reformists in the country against seeking what he called a "velvet revolution", vowing that it would be "nipped in the bud".
Yadollah Javani's comments appeared aimed at Mir Hossein Mousavi, a reformist candidate in the country's presidential elections and followed another day of bitter exchanges between Mousavi and his rival and current president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Revolutionary Guard is one of the pillars of the Iranian establishment and controls large military forces as well as a nationwide network of militia.
In a statement on its website, Javani drew parallels between Mousavi's campaign and the "velvet revolution'' that led to the 1989 overthrow of the communist government in then Czechoslovakia.
"There are many indications that some extremist [reformist] groups, have designed a colourful revolution ... using a specific colour for the first time in an election," the statement said.
Calling that a "sign of kicking off a velvet revolution project in the presidential elections", Javani vowed that any "attempt for velvet revolution will be nipped in the bud".
Javani also accused the reformists of planning to claim vote rigging and provoke street violence if Mousavi loses.
Ahmadinejad, the president, is believed to have wide support in the Revolutionary Guard and among Iran's ruling clerics, though neither have given public endorsements in the presidential race.
Speaking to Al Jazeera, Sadegh Zibakalam, professor of political science at Tehran University, said that the Revolutionary Guard chief's statement would not change the course of the election.
"Over the last three weeks, hundreds, thousands - perhaps millions - of Iranians have been pouring onto the streets. More than supporting Mousavi or other candidates, they have been expressing their opposition to Ahmadinejad and his policies," he said.
"I do not think the Revolutionary Guard's interference will change anything because it is not as though there is a conspiracy that requires them to step in."
In the final hours of campaigning before the election on Friday, candidates traded bitter accusations.
Ahmadinejad accused his rivals of using Hitler-style smear tactics and said they could face jail for insulting the president.
"Such insults and accusations against the government are a return to Hitler's methods, to repeat lies and accusations ... until everyone believes those lies," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.
Insulting senior officials is a crime in Iran punishable by a maximum of two years in prison.
Mousavi, a reformist and former prime minister, accused Ahmadinejad of isolating Iran with his vitriolic attacks on the US and said he lied about the country's economy.
All campaigning was banned from Thursday morning and cars plastered with pictures and campaign material would be stopped and seized, state television reported.
But even after the official end of campaigning, tens of thousands of Mousavi supporters remained in the streets, dancing on cars, waving green flags and passing out pro-Mousavi fliers.
Mahdi Karroubi, a reformist and former parliamentary speaker, and Mohsen Rezai, a former commander of the Revolutionary Guard, are also standing in Friday's election.
Al Jazeera's Alireza Ronaghi, reporting from Tehran, said this was the most unpredictable and most exciting Iranian presidential election in years because the main contenders each had strong support.
It was clear that Mousavi had a slight edge over Ahmadinejad in the capital, Tehran, but in other provinces it was a totally different story, our correspondent added.
Trita Parsi, the president of the Iranian-American Council, told Al Jazeera that Ahmadinejad's attacks on Mousavi "seems to have backfired and may have motivated the youth to come out and vote, supporting Mousavi's platform of change".
Afshin Molavi of the New America Foundation told Al Jazeera that accusations against Ahmadinejad and the ruling elites of corruption and fat cat insider dealings "will continue to hang in the air long after these elections, and many Iranians know this about the ruling elites".
He said that while Iran has traditionally had high voter turnout, "when we're seeing so many voters than previous polls, it tends to reflect a switch to reformist candidates".
Iran's reformists are hoping that a high turnout on Friday will help them oust the conservative Ahmadinejad, whom they accuse of increasing the country's international isolation and compounding its economic difficulties.
Mousavi's campaign appears to have motivated the youth in a country where one-third of the electorate is under 30 and born after the time of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
"I believe it is a new beginning and I want to take part in it," Parastou Pazhoutan, a 26-year-old Mousavi supporter, said.
"A month ago, I would have said Ahmadinejad was a sure bet,'' Sharif Emam Jomeh, a political analyst, said.
"There was apathy especially with the youth. But now, until 3am, they are out in numbers and they care ... Below the surface, something was boiling."