(Reuters) - Hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated moderate challenger Mirhossein Mousavi by a surprisingly wide margin in Iran’s presidential election, official results showed on Saturday. Mousavi derided the tally as a “dangerous charade.”
Here are some analysts’ views on the outcome of Friday’s vote:
“I don’t think anyone anticipated this level of fraudulence. This was a selection, not an election. At least authoritarian regimes like Syria and Egypt have no democratic pretences. In retrospect it appears this entire campaign was a show: (Supreme Leader) Ayatollah (Ali) Khamenei wasn’t ever going to let Ahmadinejad lose.”
“Ahmadinejad has of course won the election. What is surprising is his share of the vote — 64 percent according to some estimates. The opposition in Iran may protest this election as being fraudulent. Mousavi’s supporters were hopeful that he had a great chance of winning and that his presidency would lead to much needed reforms. Their enthusiasm may turn into frustration, and perhaps even active opposition against the government. Although the president is not the chief decision-maker, Ahmadinejad’s win is a sign that Iranian politics is in stage of flux.
“The power of the traditional ruling elite — men such as Ayatollah Rafsanjani — has been effectively challenged by Ahmadinejad and his supporters, including top-ranking and fundamentalist members of the Revolutionary Guards.
“Another Ahmadinejad term may translate into continued social and political repression, economic mismanagement and more assertive foreign policies, especially on the nuclear program. It is not clear how Ahmadinejad’s victory will affect U.S.-Iranian engagement. There is still some room for limited engagement on specific issues, such as Afghanistan. But Ahmadinejad’s victory, and renewed sense of confidence, may make U.S. engagement with Iran more difficult than many had expected. Regardless, the ultimate decision will be made by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the top echelon of the Revolutionary Guards.”
MARK FITZPATRICK, SENIOR FELLOW FOR NON-PROLIFERATION AT
“I’m surprised at the regime’s audacity in declaring such a large margin for Ahmadinejad, given that in the run-up, the momentum seemed to be in the other direction. The hardliners in the regime seem to have exercised all their levers of power to keep Ahmadinejad in place. Undoubtedly, one of the key reasons was their concern about losing control of the country through policies such as willingness to engage with the United States.
“All of the candidates wanted U.S. engagement, including Ahmadinejad and the Supreme Leader, but the Supreme Leader wanted it to be on his timetable and his agenda. So Ahmadinejad’s victory does not mean there cannot be engagement. He just wants credit for it. What it does mean is that there will be no change in the management of the nuclear portfolio. Ahmadinejad wants engagement with the United States without making any concessions at all in the nuclear program. So it doesn’t augur well for an early and peaceful settlement of the nuclear dispute.”
“The election results are incredible. It’s just nonsense ... If it was a genuine election landslide, surely people should be out on the streets in euphoria ...
“The potential for unrest is high. People will wake up today in Iran in a state of shock, not that Ahmadinejad has won, but that he has won on such a dramatic scale ... The scale of the election victory that they have given Ahmadinejad means he must have won big in the cities. That is simply not borne out by what people were saying in the major cities (before the vote).”
ELLIOTT ABRAMS, FORMER SENIOR BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL
“Both the apparent victory and the apparent fraud greatly complicate the Obama strategy. My advice is that they had better be thinking about more sanctions. The one hope might be that if a new Ahmadinejad government is viewed as illegitimate by many Iranians, that government might be anxious to avoid further economic distress. In that context, sanctions that bite might be a powerful tool and might push the regime into a serious negotiation. But it is more likely that the engagement strategy has been dealt a very heavy blow.
“At this point one has to wonder about vote fraud. The two-to-one margin for Ahmadinejad may well appear to millions of Iranians as bizarre and unlikely, and meant to avoid a run-off he might lose. If that’s what millions of voters think, especially young voters in this very young country (70 percent of the population is under age 30), there could well be large demonstrations. And the legitimacy not only of an Ahmadinejad second term, but of the whole regime, would be in question in the eyes of many Iranians.”
TRITA PARSI, PRESIDENT OF NATIONAL IRANIAN AMERICAN COUNCIL:
“I’m in disbelief that this could be the case. It’s one thing if Ahmadinejad had won the first round with 51 or 55 percent. But this number ... just sounds tremendously strange in a way that doesn’t add up ... It is difficult to feel comfortable that this occurred without any cheating.
“If there is a fight in Iran and there are accusations of fraud and Mousavi declares himself a winner and you have numerous leading clerics and other figures recognizing Mousavi, you are going to have paralysis and significant infighting in Iran. That will complicate (U.S. President Barack) Obama’s engagement. It will be more difficult to deal with Ahmadinejad because he has been discredited at home. He may not be able to deal with anyone because there is paralysis in Iran. It will cause the Obama administration to lose very precious time. Obama is already trying to win time within Washington and from Washington’s allies. There are already pressures from Congress, from pro-Israeli corners, from Israel itself, from some of the Persian Gulf Arab states, for a strict timeline for these efforts. Their patience for how long Obama can pursue this is strictly limited.
“For this year, the Democrats in Congress will give him the benefit of the doubt, but that means he needs to get things started. Already under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t have the new president take power until August. He would need to get his cabinet approved by parliament. You are talking already early October before the Iranians are really ready to deal. That’s under normal circumstances, which gives Obama very little time. The last thing he needs is indecisiveness in the election result that will cause things to be delayed even further.”
“The most important element in this election is in domestic politics. People may interpret it as a rejection of international pressure, but I don’t think that is correct.”
Reporting by Alistair Lyon and Sue Pleming, editing by Andrew Dobbie