Friday, June 24, 2005

NY Times: Ahmadinejad Wins

The New York Times:
Ultra-conservative Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad swept to victory in Iran's presidential election on Saturday, an official said, spelling a possible end to fragile social reforms and rapprochement with the West. READ MORE

Ahmadinejad, 48, received the backing of the religious poor to defeat moderate cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was supported by pro-reform parties and wealthy Iranians fearful of a hardline monopoly on power in the Islamic state.

``(Only) three million votes remain to be counted so we can say now that Ahmadinejad has won the election,'' said an Interior Ministry official, who declined to be named.

An official at the Guardian Council, which must approve the election results, said that out of 18.4 million voted counted, Ahmadinejad had won 61.5 percent of ballots cast.

The official said turnout was 22 million, or 47 percent, well down on the 63 percent of Iran's 46.7 million eligible voters who cast ballots in the first round on June 17.

``It's over, we accept that we've lost,'' a close Rafsanjani aide, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters.

Although Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word on all matters of state, a hardline presidency would remove the moderating influence on decision-making exercised by outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami since 1997.

``This all but closes the door for a breakthrough in U.S.-Iran relations,'' said Karim Sadjadpour, Tehran-based analyst for the International Crisis Group.

Washington broke ties with Iran in 1980 and now accuses it of developing nuclear weapons and supporting terrorism. Iran denies the charges.

``I think Ahmadinejad is less amenable to compromise on the nuclear issue, but it is unclear how much influence he will have on it,'' said Sadjadpour.


Friday's vote exposed deep class divisions in the oil-producing nation of 67 million people.

Ahmadinejad's humble lifestyle and pledges to tackle corruption and redistribute the country's oil wealth have appealed to the urban and rural religious poor.

``Today is the beginning of a new political era,'' he said as he cast his ballot on Friday.

Pro-reform political parties, students, clerics and academics had backed Rafsanjani, accusing Ahmadinejad of representing an authoritarian trend in Iranian politics.

``Ahmadinejad is like a tsunami,'' a close aide to the mayor said. ``In this election, the people were on one side and political parties supporting Rafsanjani were on the other.''

Supreme Leader Khamenei banned either side from holding victory celebrations after a fractious campaign marred by allegations of electoral irregularities.

``Dragging people onto the streets ... under any pretext is against the interests of the country,'' he said in a statement.

Aides to Rafsanjani, 70, who was president from 1989 to 1997 and has cast himself as a reformer, had accused the hardline Basij militia of intimidating voters to back Ahmadinejad.

``We know massive irregularities have taken place in steering votes toward a certain candidate in which the Basij has played a role,'' one aide, Mohammad Atrianfar, told reporters.

Officials at the reformist-run Interior Ministry also complained of illegal election-day campaigning.

``I vote for Ahmadinejad because he wants to cut the hands of those who are stealing the national wealth and he wants to fight poverty ... and discrimination,'' said Rahmatollah Izadpanah, 41.

In wealthier north Tehran, Rafsanjani voters said they feared Ahmadinejad would reverse modest reforms made under Khatami that allow women to dress in brighter, skimpier clothes and couples to fraternise in public without fear of arrest.

``(Rafsanjani) will prevent society from going backwards and he will give us some freedom,'' said businessman Morteza, 46.

The next move is Europe's. This is their worst nightmare.