Ahmadinejad's sensational accusations of corruption during the televised debates were a challenge to the established oligarchy and it is likely his electoral success, fraud or not, represents an upheaval in the internal balance of power in his favour. From a policy point of view the election of Mousavi would not have substantially altered Iranian politics except to shift the rhetoric slightly on engagement and redirect investment of revenue to infrastructure rather that wages and gratuitous, inflationary payments to the rural and urban poor. And the oligarchy doesn't give a fig about the aspirations of urban, middle-class voters who supported Mousavi and alarmed them with public demonstrations.
No, this was a competition to see who could demonstrate the most influence to determine the outcome, a metric of how many provincial Interior Ministry officials could be enlisted to cook the books for one candidate or the other. It is close to being a coup d'état within the context of the power to manipulate the system reserved for the oligarchic heirarchy. And Ahmadinejad has clearly emerged the victor.
Mousavi's defeat is not the compelling story, it's the nature of his defeat, involving accusations of corruption against Rafsanjani, an open letter of protest to Khamenei and clear divisions among the ruling elite:
MARGARET WARNER: And -- and I know you are making a point that are you're not speculating here, just that's the fear among Moussavi's supporters.
Either way, whoever wins this -- and we, of course, may have a runoff next Friday -- fair to say this has been an incredible campaign, an unexpectedly intense one.
AFSHIN MOLAVI: Absolutely, probably the most polarizing presidential election in Iran's 30 year post-revolution history.
The televised debates, Margaret, were -- were absolutely spectacular to watch. They were more like a smack-down than debates, with candidates hurling insults at each other. Essentially, Ahmadinejad also opened a whole file in which he called his opponent members of a corrupt business elite.
And when these elections are over, those accusations are going to hang in the air as an albatross over the entire system of the Islamic republic.
Margaret Warner - Iran's Future Unclear Following Presidential Election PBS 12 Jun 09
Surely the organs of state power have been used to manage the situation, from the blackout of SMS services on election day:
Radio Farda, RFE/RL's Persian Service, confirmed that, at first, text messages from the two reformist presidential candidates were blocked from reaching supporters on Thursday evening. Eventually, Iran's entire SMS infrastructure went down. As of Friday night, service has not been restored.
An official from Iran's state telecommunications company confirmed the SMS disruption and said, vaguely, that it may have been caused by "other entities" in the government.
Textless in Tehran: Huge Turnout Despite SMS Disruptions Radio Free Europe 12 Jun 09
To the raid on Mousavi's election headquarters late in the evening:
Police raided and emptied presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi's central campaign headquarters, a STRATFOR source close to the Iranian political establishment said June 12. The source also said two key reformist leaders close to Mousavi have been arrested. A STRATFOR source in Iranian media said police took over Mousavi's headquarters to keep his campaign organizers from launching a potential coordinated demonstration.
Iran: Police Clear Out Mousavi's Headquarters Stratfor 12 Jun 09 2346 GMT
For those who missed the day's news, Mousavi claimed victory early and Iran's state run media immediately declared a huge margin for his opponent in an unprecedented early result:
Official preliminary results show that Iran's incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is leading the polls with 69.04 percent of the ballots that have so far been counted.
In a surprise press briefing, Iran's Election Commission Chief, Kamran Daneshjoo, announced that 19.42 percent of the votes were counted until 23:54 local time (20:24 GMT).
According to Daneshjoo, Ahmadinejad is leading in the polls, followed by Mir-Hossein Mousavi who has 28.42 percent of the votes.
Ahmadinejad leads Mousavi in preliminary results PressTV (Iran) 12 Jun 09 20:07:15 GMT
Never mind they were still printing ballots:
Election Day draws to a close in Iran with the Guardian Council printing more ballot papers in the heat of a seemingly unprecedented voter turnout.
The Guardian Council, an influential body tasked with overseeing the election process, announced that a new amount of ballot papers have been printed in the final hours of the presidential polls.
More ballot papers printed over high turnout PressTV (Iran) 12 Jun 09 18:26:30 GMT
Not that these ballots were found anywhere they were needed:
Voting stations in Shiraz and Tabriz, Iran, ran out of ballots very quickly during the country's presidential election June 12, Aftab News reported June 13. These areas are known to be home to many supporters of presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, Aftab said. Furthermore, a STRATFOR source in Iranian media said voters in Shiraz were turned away because of a ballot shortage. The source said electoral authorities told voters to go home and return for a "second round" of voting. Aftab reported that voting stations in southern Tehran, where Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has many supporters, had excess ballots.
Iran: Ballot Supply Irregularities Reported Stratfor 13 Jun 09 0133 GMT
And the outcome? A landslide:
Partial results show that Iran's incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is close to winning the elections in a landslide victory, gaining 64.31 percent of the votes.
His campaign manager Mojtaba Samareh Hashemi has already claimed victory.
According to Press TV's correspondent at the Election Commission Headquarters, Saman Kojouri, the latest statistics announced by the Iranian electoral officials show 94 percent of the ballots have been counted so far.
Ahmadinejad close to a landslide victory PressTV (Iran) 13 Jun 09 00:44:19 GMT
Not without an alarming report mid-evening from Stratfor on the whole ordeal:
The Iranian election is currently in turmoil. Both Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi are claiming to be ahead in the vote. Preliminary results from the presidential vote show Ahmadinejad leading; Iranian Election Commission chief Kamran Daneshjoo held a press conference at 11:45 p.m. local time and announced that with some 20 percent of the votes counted, the president was leading with 3,462,548 votes (69.04 percent), while his main challenger, Mousavi, had 1, 425,678 (28.42 percent). Sources tell STRATFOR that these preliminary numbers pertain to the votes from the smaller towns and villages, where the president has considerable influence, as he has distributed a lot of cash to the poor.
However, Iran's state-run Press TV is saying that only 10 million of 24 million votes, or around 42 percent of the vote, have been counted. At the same time, they are also claiming that 69 percent of the vote has been counted. Obviously the numbers are not adding up, and the agencies themselves appear to be in chaos.
Prior to the announcement of the results, Mousavi held a press conference in which he said he was the winner of the election. The opposition camp is greatly concerned about fraud, and STRATFOR has been told that Mousavi has vowed to resist any fraud, even if it entails taking to the streets. This means there is considerable risk of unrest should Ahmadinejad emerge as the winner. But so far there is no evidence that the government is mobilizing security forces to deal with any such eventuality.
The situation is being monitored carefully, as it is potentially explosive.
Red Alert: Iran's Election Results 12 Jun 09 2116 GM
The upshot? Mousavi lost, big time. So big time as to challenge the probity of the election and the credulity of the electorate as a high turnout, and it was awesome, was supposed to favour Mousavi and Ahmadinejad's base has been variously estimated as between 12 and 14 million, tops. But that's not the point.
Ahmadinejad won by a margin calculated to shake the confidence of members of the oligarchy who arguably pulled out all the stops to oppose him. He has demonstrated a level of control of the state apparatus which exceeds our previous estimates, and clearly the narrow-eyed world-view of Ahmadinejad has just received a vote of confidence and may reach further into the oligarchy's labyrinthine corridors of power than we previously had thought or anticipated.
It is also clear that Mousavi's constiuencies have been marginalised and ignored, that the advocates of the 'green revolution,' now likely to be resentful and skeptical of Iran's legal mechanisms for democracy, have been sidelined in the competition for power among the elites. They may live to regret this when these chickens come home to roost.
But even more clearly the prospects of an emerging willingness for engagement, a softening of the bombastic rhetoric of Holocaust denial and aggression and an opportunity for moderation of Iran's isolation and ambition for raw power has been, for the moment, irretrievably lost.
The next few days and weeks will be very interesting, as Iranians of all classes and persuasions awaken to this new reality. Ahmadinejad, the outspoken demagogue who has been rightly dismissed in the past as a mere puppet of his oligarchic masters is tugging on the strings himself and seems to have a pretty firm grip so far.