Did Ahmadinejad Win Fair & Square – and Cheat, Too?

Juan Cole presents a compelling case that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stole the Iranian presidential election altogether, pointing to the sheer lopsidedness of the results, both nationally and in specific areas, as proof of their absurdity. Robert Fisk, on the other hand, cites an Iranian friend arguing that Ahmadinejad’s victory isn’t really that hard to believe:

“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.” …

“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.”

Still, Ahmadinejad’s almost 2-to-1 victory over Mousavi is reason for skepticism. Last week, we ran a story about Ahmadinejad’s rivals complaining of too many ballots being printed, presumably for stuffing the boxes in Ahmadinejad’s favor. Is it possible that Ahmadinejad’s henchmen bought into the Mousavi hype a bit too much, cheated overzealously to avoid the predicted runoff, and then got blindsided by a much better turnout for their guy than anyone expected? That is, is Ahmadinejad’s 63% total masking a much more modest but nonetheless real majority? And will the recount reveal such a result, thereby undermining Ahmadinejad at the same time that it confirms his victory?

UPDATE: “Many experts are claiming that the margin of victory of incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was the result of fraud or manipulation, but our nationwide public opinion survey of Iranians three weeks before the vote showed Ahmadinejad leading by a more than 2 to 1 margin — greater than his actual apparent margin of victory in Friday’s election.” Read the rest.

UPDATE 2: But on the third hand…