John Lyons, Tehran | June 12, 2009
IRAN'S Revolutionary Guard has warned supporters of the leading challenger for this weekend's presidential election that they will not tolerate massive street rallies turning into any kind of "velvet revolution".
Authorities appear to have been surprised by the outpouring into the streets of supporters of reform candidate Mir Hussein Mousavi, and the warning came as Iran faces one of its most fiercely and openly contested elections since the Islamic revolution of 1979 ousted the Shah.
The political director of the Revolutionary Guards, Yadollah Javan, yesterday posted a blunt message on the Revolutionary Guards' website. "Any attempt for velvet revolution will be nipped in the bud," he wrote.
The Revolutionary Guards are Iran's military elite and are known to be solid supporters of the President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is under serious challenge at this election, particularly from Mr Mousavi, the leading reform candidate.
The Mousavi campaign has chosen green as its colour - walking around the streets of Tehran one sees thousands of green flags, posters and ribbons waved by Mousavi supporters from balconies, rooftops, footpaths and cars.
The spontaneous street demonstrations have brought traffic around Tehran to a virtual halt as Mousavi supporters leave their cars to dance and to run from car to car handing out voting material supporting their candidate.
Clearly authorities fear that the festive display could transform into something more serious in coming days.
Referring to the colour co-ordinated campaign, the Revolutionary Guards' Mr Javan wrote: "There are many indications that some extremist groups have designed a colourful revolution, using a specific colour for the first time in an election."
In the final day of the campaign, Mr Ahmadinejad accused his challengers, particularly Mr Mousavi, of having used tactics reminiscent of Nazi propagandist Josef Goebbels in attacking his economic record.
"They applied the methods of Goebbels, propaganda minister for Hitler," he said. "They used this method of psychological war against our nation."
Referring to one of Hitler's most feared officers was an interesting move for Mr Ahmadinejad, who has been a repeated denier of the Holocaust.
Facing the possibility of defeat after his first four-year term,
Mr Ahmadinejad remained defiant that he would not bow to UN or US pressure to halt his uranium-enrichment program, which Israel fears is being developed to be used in a nuclear attack against it.
Mr Ahmadinejad told supporters in his final rally: "Let the world know that if the Iranian nation should re-elect this small servant, he would go forward in the world arena with the nation's authority and would not withdraw one iota from the nation's rights."
In an ominous warning that the huge support for the Mousavi campaign may not be enough to win the election, Mr Ahmadinejad said he had "information" that his opponents had "found out" they had lost. The cryptic comment came before ballot boxes had opened.
The Mousavi campaign has strong support in the capital, Tehran, particularly among younger voters.
The Ahmadinejad campaign is believed to be stronger in rural and poorer areas.
Iran's troubled economy is among the most significant campaign issues. In struggling outlying areas Mr Ahmadinejad has campaigned as a leader who wants to narrow the wealth gap.
Iran's oil-based economy has suffered from the fall in oil prices over the past two years and the effect of sanctions imposed by the UN and US over Tehran's refusal to allow international inspectors to monitor its nuclear program.
Mr Ahmadinejad used yesterday's rally to defend his economic record, saying "we are taking the correct path".
"We have worked for years on infrastructure, unemployment and housing," he said.
He portrayed his refusal to agree to nuclear inspections as a victory.
"The report card of this government is very colourful," he said. "We have achieved many things. We were successful in the nuclear case, but they (his reform opponents) even opposed these glories.
"Is nuclear development a lie? Is having technology to send satellites a lie?"
Mr Ahmadinejad has not only been attacked by reformers but from his own conservative side.
Among those has been his main conservative challenger, Mohsen Rezai, a former head of the Revolutionary Guards.
"One of the main faults of Mr Ahmadinejad is that he thinks he knows everything about every subject," Mr Rezai said yesterday.
"He thinks that he knows a lot regarding security, economy, therefore he has created a kind of loneliness around himself and no one feels safe around him.
"If he is in charge of the nation's security, then our nation will face serious and irreparable danger."
If nothing else, an election campaign gives Iranians a rare chance to party.
"Let's cut the president's term to one month and extend the campaign to four years!" read a text message circulating on Iranian cell phones yesterday.
Under conservative clerical rule for the past three decades, Iran has little to offer in terms of nightlife in the absence of clubs and bars.
Iran has also been subject to a crackdown on "un-Islamic" attire and behaviour.
The campaign gave Iranians an excuse to hold long street parties in support of the frontrunners.
Additional reporting: Agencies