http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/24/world/middleeast/24iran.html?_r=1&hp=&pagewanted=print June 24, 2009 Top Clerical Council in Iran Rejects Plea to Annul Vote By MICHAEL SLACKMAN CAIRO Irans most powerful oversight council has refused to nullify the contested presidential election just one day after it announced that the number of votes in 50 cities exceeded the number of eligible voters there by three million, Iranian state television said Tuesday, further tarnishing a presidential election that has set off the most sustained challenge to Irans leadership in 30 years. On Press TV, the English-language state television satellite broadcaster, Abbas-Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman for the Guardian Council, declared: If a major breach occurs in an election, the Guardian Council may annul the votes that come out of a particular affected ballot box, polling station, district, or city. Fortunately, in the recent presidential election we found no witness of major fraud or breach in the election, he said. Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place. He was speaking late on Monday in Tehran and his remarks were posted early Tuesday, Tehran time. The Guardian Council a 12-member panel of clerics entrusted with overseeing and validating elections has until Wednesday to certify the election as valid. The spokesmans remarks seem to make that certification even more of a certainty. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Irans supreme leader, pronounced the vote fair in a major sermon last Friday. For the opposition, whose followers have demonstrated and confronted a violent crackdown, Mr. Kadkhodaeis comments seem likely to be taken as further evidence that the process of certification has been as flawed as opponents claim the ballot itself was. The vote gave a lopsided victory to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, leaving three opposition candidates complaining that the vote had been stolen. The main reformist opposition candidate, former Prime Minister Mir Hussein Moussavi, has led demands that the vote be annulled as his followers took to the streets in mass demonstrations that brought a bloody crackdown by the authorities over the weekend. On Monday, the Guardian Council insisted that the overall vote was valid, even as security forces stepped up their threats to treat demonstrators as criminals seeking to destabilize the country. A group of as many as a thousand demonstrators at Haft-e-tir Square in central Tehran was quickly overwhelmed Monday by baton-wielding riot police and tear gas shortly after the Revolutionary Guards issued an ominous warning on their Web site saying that protesters would face revolutionary confrontation. Opposition leaders said the next move may be civil disobedience or a general strike. The legitimacy of the vote remains at the core of the dispute. The Guardian Council said on Monday irregularities were not enough to overturn the landslide election margin that the government had announced for Mr. Ahmadinejad. But the recognition of a broad discrepancy between the number of recorded votes and registered voters in some districts only fueled suspicions that the election and the Guardian Councils arbitration of it was unfair. I dont think they actually counted the votes, though thats hard to prove, said Ali Ansari, a professor at the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland and one of the authors of a study of the election results issued by Chatham House, a London-based research group. Indeed, the Guardian Council has so far appeared to prejudge the race as fair and legitimate, and the Fars news agency reported that on Tuesday the presiding board of Parliament established dates for Mr. Ahmadinejad to present his cabinet for his second term. Statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100 percent of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80 to 170 cities are not accurate the incident has happened in only 50 cities, said Mr. Kadkhodaei said Monday. He said this outcome could occur because people may vote anywhere they choose, not necessarily only in their district of registration. But many districts where the excess votes were recorded are small, remote places rarely visited by business travelers or tourists, analysts said, raising questions about how so many extra votes could have been counted in so many different areas. The extra votes add to a list of complaints leveled against the election by Mr. Moussavi and other challengers inside and outside Iran. Among them: How did the government manage to count enough of the 40 million paper ballots to be able to announce results within two hours of the polls closing? How is it that Mr. Ahmadinejads margin of victory remained constant throughout the ballot count? Why did the government order polls closed at 10 p.m. when they often stay open until midnight for presidential races? Why were some ballot boxes sealed before candidates inspectors could validate they were empty? Why were votes counted centrally, by the Interior Ministry, instead of locally, as in the past? Why did some polling places lock their doors at 6 p.m. after running out of ballots? Mr. Kadkhodaei denied that polling stations had closed before all voters could cast their ballots and said voting had continued up to three-and-a-half-hours past the official 10 p.m. deadline, Press TV said. The Guardian Council had offered a random 10 percent recount of the ballot but the opposition rejected it, saying it wanted a new election. Mr. Kadkhodaei said the council had received reports from provincial panels appointed to investigate complaints of illegal campaigning, including the expulsion of candidates representatives from polling stations and bribery. Those reports showed, Mr. Kadkhodaei was quoted by Press TV as saying, that no series of violations had occurred. In specific terms, analysts who have scrutinized the election results available in Persian and English said that for Mr. Ahmadinejad to have won 63 percent to Mr. Moussavis 34 percent, he would have had to have won over most people who four years ago supported the liberal reform candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, a former speaker of the Parliament who ran again this year. They said the president also would have had to have garnered the votes in that 2005 race that went to Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a bitter opponent of Mr. Ahmadinejad who backed Mr. Moussavi this time. The review of voting statistics released this week by St. Andrews University and Chatham House reached a similar conclusion. The plausibility of Mr. Ahmadinejads claimed victory is called into question by figures that show that in several provinces he would have had to attract the votes of all new voters, all the votes of his former centrist opponent, and up to 44 percent of those who voted for reformist candidates in 2005, said Thomas Rintoul, one of the studys authors. Ayatollah Khamenei, the countrys supreme leader, said that Mr. Ahmadinejads margin of victory was so great 11 million votes that there could be no doubt it was legitimate. He never addressed any of the specific charges of fraud. Sometimes the difference is 100,000, 500,000 or even 1 million, Ayatollah Khamenei said in his speech to the nation Friday . In that case, one could say that there might have been vote-rigging. But how can they rig 11 million votes? To vote, all citizens must show their shenasnameh, a wallet-sized folder holding all important documents, including birth certificates and proofs of marriage and divorce. Iranians can visit any polling site they choose to with their shenasnameh, which is why some districts end up with more ballots cast than eligible voters. People with summer or weekend houses, for example, often do not go home to vote. Even the conservative speaker of Irans Parliament, Ali Larijani, who has sided with the supreme leader in support of Mr. Ahmadinejad, acknowledged that skepticism about the vote was wide and deep, unlikely to be dispelled by continued claims of a landslide victory for the president.