Like many others, I am sure, I have been thinking about the recent presidential election in Iran. More precisely, and unlike many others, I have been comparing it to elections in the US. Most precisely, to the 2000 election as well as to the 1876 election.
In the 2000 election, there were disputes as to the votes that were tallied and the battle went to the (relatively) impartial US Supreme Court - where the end result was the elevation of George W. Bush to the presidency. There is no independent judiciary in Iran that can be used to resolve this issue - the closest is the Guardian Council which will have to confirm the election results (normally a pro forma process). The Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, after initially accepting that Ahmadinejad, has now ordered an investigation by the Guardian Council into possible (and that term is used somewhat loosely at this point) election fraud. While many think it is simply a delaying ploy to temper down the protests by Mousavi supporters, it is possible that they will invalidate the results and... do what? Have a new election? Declare Mousavi the winner? Declare that Ahmadinejad won but by a closer margin? Or simply validate the results? In the end, it seems like very little will be gained by whatever the Guardian Council decides. In truth, it seems that the protests will likely continue (until what?) or they will be brutally put down by supporters of the current administration (the military and para-military forces).
However, an option that seems more likely in Iran can be pulled from the 1876 election. In that election, Rutherford B. Hayes is commonly thought to have worked out an agreement with some Democrats that would allow him to be elected in return for removing Republican troops (and thus control) over several southern states - a move that, in reality, stopped the progress of blacks that had been instituted after the Civil War. This would probably be the most face-saving move that would work in Iran, as well. Mousavi, for all of the moderate tendencies he has attributed to him (rightly or wrongly), is still a member of the conservative elite in the country and may well concede the election if granted certain wishes. He could then move to calm down his supporters which would allow for the leadership to continue as is. The only question is, if such a deal is struck, would the supporters who have protested in his name for the past several days return to their previous lives or consider it another betrayal and continue with the mass demonstrations that have rocked the nation? Just because the system worked in the US (ignoring the long-term effects, the nation stayed together and there was no systemic failure) does not ensure that it would work in Iran. But it could potentially be the lesser of several evils in the eyes of the Iranian leadership.