Despite what hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may wish, the election dispute in Iran has laid bare deep divisions in the country between a large segment of society and its clerical leadership.
Huge demonstrations in support of challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi offer undeniable evidence of a willingness by hundreds of thousands of Iranians to claim their basic rights as citizens of a self-styled democracy and challenge the man whom they believe stole the election from Mr. Mousavi.
These are some of Iran's best and most talented people – the young, well-educated urban dwellers who want a better future for themselves and for their country. They would not be sticking their necks out under a regime that frowns on protest and punishes dissent if they did not believe that something very important is at stake.
They are, of course, right. A free and fair vote is a universal principle worth defending, and there are many reasons to believe that President Ahmadinejad and his government violated that principle in Friday's election.
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Almost 40 million paper ballots were cast in the election nationwide, yet the government proclaimed victory a mere three hours after the polls closed. (How could so many ballots have been counted so quickly?) And what a victory it was – a landslide by Mr. Ahmadinejad that seems improbable based on the huge pre-election demonstrations for Mr. Mousavi.
By official tally, the challengers not only lost the national vote badly, but they were licked in their own native regions and among their own ethnic groups. Little wonder that Mr. Mousavi's supporters are outraged and demanding not just a recount but an entirely new round of balloting – this time, a fair one.
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