Friday, June 17, 2005

Rafsanjani, Moin head for Iran run-off vote -aides

Paul Hughes, Reuters:
Pragmatic cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was heading for a run-off vote against reformist Mostafa Moin after the two topped a field of seven in
Iran's presidential election on Friday, aides to both men said.

Rafasanjani and Moin both fell short of the 50 percent support required to secure an outright win, they said, citing their own exit polls.

Their predictions matched some pre-election opinion polls and set up an unprecedented second-round vote between the two candidates who have done the most to challenge long-held taboos, such as talks with arch-foe the United States.

U.S. officials had slammed the elections as undemocratic.

Whoever wins the race, unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains the final arbiter on all state affairs.

"Rafsanjani and Moin are the first two, according to our surveys. They are the ones who will compete in the second round," close Rafsanjani aide Mohammad Atrianfar said.

"My prediction is that Rafsanjani and Moin have got the most votes and I don't think there is a huge gap between them," said Mohammad Ali Abtahi, adviser to outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami and a strong ally of Moin.

A government official, who asked not to be named, also said the 70-year-old Rafsanjani, who previously held the presidency from 1989-97, and ex-education minister Moin, 54, would face a run-off vote, likely to be held on June 24. READ MORE

Official results are not expected until Saturday.

Before the polls, analysts said hardline conservatives had weakened their hand by failing to unite around one candidate.


A group of conservative parties backed former state broadcasting chief Ali Larijani, but fellow conservatives Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former Tehran mayor, and ex-police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf refused to stand aside.

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

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

His campaign portrayed him as the only one with the political savvy and influence to resolve Iran's nuclear standoff with the West and repair ties with Washington, which broke diplomatic relations after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Moin, who was only allowed to run after the last-minute intervention of Khamenei, ran a daring campaign that challenged some of the basic principles of the Islamic state including the Supreme Leader's power.

But analysts say a Moin government could face the same kind of hardline backlash that prevented outgoing President Khatami, a reformist cleric, from implementing promised improvements in social and political freedoms.

Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari said earlier he expected turnout of about 60 percent. It was 67 percent in the 2001 presidential poll.

Political analysts say Iran's clerical leaders will trumpet any turnout over 50 percent as an endorsement of the Islamic republic's unique mix of theocracy and democracy.

Many Iranians said they would not legitimize a system where real power is held by unelected clerics who barred all but a handful of more than 1,000 presidential hopefuls. Yet the poll aroused more interest than expected among voters.

"Even if we think it is pre-cooked, we should vote. I'll vote for Moin," said Siavosh Kayyal, 22, a computer engineer.

President Bush, who labeled Iran part of an axis of evil in 2002, attacked its "oppressive record." Iran denies U.S. claims it seeks nuclear weapons and backs terrorism.

Bush's pre-emptive attack on the election drew derisive responses from many Iranian leaders, including reformists vowing to strengthen democratic institutions and entrench human rights.

"It might not be an ideal election for us, but the basics are there," Moin told Reuters at his campaign headquarters.