Many of us wondered why the Iranian regime decided to rig the election so obviously that it would almost certainly result in an eruption of anger from the people of Iran and condemnation around the world.  Today, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei offered an answer to that question — and a warning to his subjects:

Iran’s supreme leader said Friday that the country’s disputed presidential vote had not been rigged, sternly warning protesters of a crackdown if they continue massive demonstrations demanding a new election.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei sided with hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and offered no concessions to the opposition. He effectively closed any chance for a new vote by calling the June 12 election an “absolute victory.”

The speech created a stark choice for candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi and his supporters: Drop their demands for a new vote or take to the streets again in blatant defiance of the man endowed with virtually limitless powers under Iran’s constitution. …

“If the difference was 100,000 or 500,000 or 1 million, well, one may say fraud could have happened. But how can one rig 11 million votes?” Khamenei asked during Friday prayers at Tehran University.

Well, that question has already been answered, which was that the results could have been pre-determined.  The Guardian (UK) reported on Monday that the mullahs had sent the results to the polling stations ahead of the ballots, a nifty trick that allows any recount to substantiate itself.  If that happened, then the wide gap would allow Khamenei to make exactly this argument — that no one could question a landslide result.

The ultimatum was not unexpected.  Most people knew that the Friday prayers would be a line in the sand, although perhaps some held out hope for a more conciliatory approach from Khamenei. Instead, he doubled down on his infallibility, as well as his absolute power.  In fact, Khamenei reminded his subjects where the real power lies:

He stressed that the four candidates were part of the country’s Islamic system and reminded listeners that Mousavi was prime minister of Iran when Khamenei was president in the 1980s.

“All of them belong to the system. It was a competition within the ruling system,” he said.

We have made this point a number of times, and it bears repeating once again: Mousavi was a candidate approved by the mullahs.  He’s part of the “ruling system,” not a “governing system.”  While he may have some stylistic differences with Ahmadinejad, Mousavi takes his orders from the same people as Ahmadinejad, which means that a Mousavi win would not make a tremendous difference in Iranian policy.  Barack Obama was correct when he pointed this out earlier this week.

However, the people of Iran also clearly understand this.  The crisis has moved beyond Mousavi, and Khamenei knows that.  The people in the street may shout Mousavi’s name, but their protests have evolved into a protest against being ruled and not governed.  Mousavi could choose to join that fight, or he could choose to remain within the ruling system, but the people on the street now may choose to fight absolute rule without him.  Khamenei can’t back down without losing his conceit of infallibility in temporal matters, and if the Iranians refuse to return to the yoke of tyranny, then this will get ugly very, very quickly.