Saturday, June 18, 2005

Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad top Iran election

Parisa Hafezi, Reuters:
Centrist cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani narrowly clinched top spot on Saturday in Iran's nail-biting presidential election, but now faces a run-off with his closest rival, hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. READ MORE

An Interior Ministry source said pre-election favorite Rafsanjani had won 20.8 percent of the 28.85 million votes cast, a turnout of 62 percent, while Ahmadinejad got 19.3 percent.

The source, who asked not to be named, said the results did not include ballots cast by Iranians abroad but added that those were not expected to alter the top positions from Friday's vote.

As no one in the seven-strong field secured at least 50 percent of votes cast, Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad will fight the Islamic republic's first run-off election on Friday, June 24.

Whoever wins, unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will keep the last word on state affairs and hard-liners will retain key levers of power such as security and the courts.

Rafsanjani is a veteran politician who wants better ties with the West and would be likely to pursue a pragmatic reform program, liberalising the economy and preserving social freedoms without antagonizing the powerful clerical elite.

Ahmadinejad, a staunch ally of the hardline establishment, appeared to have won votes among Iran's pious poor, trading on his credentials as a former instructor with the Basij militia, the zealous enforcers of Islamic revolutionary principles.

In a campaign where others broke taboos by advocating better ties with arch-foe America, Ahmadinejad said this was "not the key to all our problems."


Third-placed reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi accused state bodies of manipulating the vote in favor of a hardline rival.

"Some centers of power are violating the law and are trying to get more votes for a particular person with the help of the Guardian Council," he told a news conference.

He did not mention his competitor by name, but the official IRNA news agency said he was referring to Ahmadinejad.

The results confirmed the shaky reputation of Iranian opinion polls. Most political pundits were also wrong.

The opinion polls had made Rafsanjani clear favorite, though short of the threshold for a first-round win. But most forecast that reformist Mostafa Moin or hardline ex-police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf would be his closest rivals.

"It has been a completely unpredictable election," Deputy Interior Minister Mahmoud Mirlohi said during the vote count.

Rafsanjani's campaign portrayed him as an experienced leader with the political savvy and clout to resolve Iran's nuclear standoff with the West and repair ties with Washington.

"I have promised people to continue reforms and I am sure I can deliver my promises," he said after voting.

Ayatollah Khamenei congratulated Iranians on the respectable turnout, which he took as a repudiation of U.S. criticisms that the poll was unfair because the unelected Guardian Council had barred many candidates from standing. "With your wise participation in the elections, you have once again announced your strong will to be independent, defend Islamic values and have an Islamic democracy," he said.

Outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami described the poll as "totally healthy" and said the result would not derail the changes he initiated because "reforms belong to the people."

The election was the climax to a vibrant campaign that featured Western-style television clips and exuberant street rallies that flouted normally strict Islamic moral codes.

Even conservative candidates adopted the language of reform and ditched open hostility to the West to appeal to Iran's mainly young voters eager for an end to isolation. Half the population is under 25 and anyone over 15 can vote. (Additional reporting by Hossein Jasseb and Amir Paivar).