(via Andrew Sullivan)
Iran’s volatile presidential election drew to a dramatic close last night after an apparently near-record turnout that appeared to favour Mir Hossein Mousavi, the moderate seeking to unseat the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
As the searing heat of the day gave way to a welcome evening breeze, tens of thousands of voters were still queuing up at polling stations across the country after they were ordered to remain open for an extra four hours and perhaps longer. Officials predicted a final turnout of 70% or more.
Representatives of Ahmadinejad and Mousavi both claimed their candidates had taken 55%-60% of the vote – enough for victory in the first round. If no candidate gets 50% the top contenders go forward to a run-off next week. Two other candidates would drop out.
Grievances about personal freedoms, economic mismanagement, Ahmadinejad’s style and Iran’s global image are powerful motives for change, even if few expect it to happen very fast: a country that has experienced one revolution does not easily seek another.
Kurdish construction worker Amjad Abdollazadeh had voted for Mousavi too. “Ahmadinejad wasn’t that bad,” he said, queuing to buy an ice cream for his wife. “But Mousavi will be better.”
Should Mousavi actually be allowed to win (and remember there are elements in the Iranian regime which have threatened to prevent this) there would be reason to be pleased, although not to jump for joy. We (and they) would be rid of a small man who had overreached himself and threatened a wholly unnecessary nuclear crisis, but Mousavi would still be constrained in any desire for deep reform (if he even has one) by Ayatollah Khamenei. And his reformist credentials haven’t been properly established, in a country with a child execution rate bettered only by China. Neil Durkin is right that Mousavi speaking out for women’s rights is a step in the right direction, but let’s not get over excited just yet.