So did they rig it and if so, how?

So far the evidence seems circumstantial and no-one I’ve spoken to has managed to provide hard proof.

A leading member of the Mousavi camp told me that in thousands of polling stations, agents for opposition monitors were told to leave before the ballot boxes were opened and the votes counted.

He was suspicious of new software used to tally the results. The speed with which nearly 40 million ballots were manually counted was remarkable – preliminary results saying Ahmadinejad had a commanding lead were announced on a state TV channel (bizarrely, the one which broadcasts to the Arabic speaking minority) at 11.30pm, when voting had only just finished in many places.

Other allegations include a shortage of ballot papers in opposition strongholds, vote buying and intimidation. It also seems strange that the overall result was published before the provincial tallies.

But even my source had to admit that concrete incidents where they could point to fraud were not enough to reverse the result of 24,527,516 votes (62.63 per cent) for Mr Ahamdinejad and  13,216,411 votes (33.75 percent) for Mir-Hossein Moussavi. The “partial recount” authorized by the Guardian Council is unlikely to change the overall result, because the difference was so big.

Some people have pointed to a poll carried out by an American organization to suggest that the opposition and an eager western media are the ones who have got it wrong.

The telephone poll of 1001 people in 30 provinces gave 34 per cent to Ahmadinejad, 14 per cent to Mousavi with 27 per cent undecided. But even that poll, which gave the incumbent a significant lead, pointed out that 60 per cent of undecideds said they wanted change or reform, and it was done between May 11 and 20th which is before the opposition “green” campaign really took off. 

Other polls commissioned by the government, conducted nearer the election, reportedly gave Mousavi a commanding lead, but the results have been kept secret.

What is without doubt is that many Iranians feel that they have been cheated. The green campaign has been a huge phenomenom in this country, a great wave of enthusiasm for change that has carried millions in its tide.  Although it is led by the middle class and the young, I do not believe it is confined to them.

The underlying problem is the opacity of the Iranian system. Secrecy is integral. The President is important, but the unelected Supreme Leader holds ultimate power, advised by councils of mullahs who meet behind the curtain.

Occasionally it’s drawn back for the Iranian public to have a look. The election campaign was like a burst of sunlight in a darkened room, and now people crave more.

The lack of transparency in all aspects of government  makes conspiracy theories especially popular here. As my opposition source said: “This is all a grand game conducted by some people.”