Steve Chapman

A tyrannical government is by nature in a constant state of war with its own people. There are periods of truce, but none of real peace. We in the democratic world generally think of government as an institution established by the people to serve their needs, even if it often fails. But the rulers in a place like Iran are more like conquerors presiding over a subject people.

Sometimes, like right now, that fact becomes inescapable, even to subjects who had imagined they were in the care of humane and benevolent guardians. Iranians who voted for Mir Hossein Mousavi, only to see their votes disregarded, now discover their country is ruled by an organized-crime gang that is prepared to use any means to maintain its grip.

That comparison may be unfair -- to the Mafia, which at least doesn't compound brutality with deceit by claiming to administer the will of God or act in the best interests of its victims. The difference between a despot and a gangster is that a gangster is seldom hypocritical.

Hypocrisy, it has been said, is the tribute vice pays to virtue. Even the most vicious tyrants feel a compulsion to masquerade as servants of the people, by holding sham elections, writing meaningless constitutions and setting up Potemkin courts. But when they begin to believe their own propaganda, they are often disabused of the fantasy.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have genuinely expected to win the June 12 presidential election. But when you allow the ruled an opportunity to pass judgment, they can surprise you. When there is a disparity between the desires of the rulers and the desires of the ruled, the former take precedence, even if it means they have to steal the election.

The official Guardian Council disparaged opposition claims of massive stuffing of ballot boxes. "Statistics provided by the candidates, who claim more than 100 percent of those eligible have cast their ballot in 80 to 170 cities, are not accurate; the incident has happened in only 50 cities," said a spokesman. Only 50 cities! That's a relief.

There were other neon signs advertising the fraud. A study published by Chatham House and the Institute of Iranian Studies at the University of St. Andrews said, "In a third of all provinces, the official results would require that Ahmadinejad took not only all former conservative voters, all former centrist voters, and all new voters, but also up to 44 percent of former reformist voters, despite a decade of conflict between these two groups." It's as plausible as John McCain carrying Cambridge, Manhattan and Berkeley by a landslide.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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