Friday, March 11, 2005

Rafsanjani Leads then Karoubi then Velayati 3/11/05

: "Rafsanjani leads in early Iran president poll
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani holds an early lead in voting intentions for Iran's June 17 presidential elections, according to an opinion poll released by the official IRNA news agency on Friday.

But the survey of 7,100 people in 11 cities suggested none of the aspirants to replace reformist President Mohammad Khatami will muster the 50 percent vote needed for an outright win, making a runoff election between the top two contenders likely.

According to the IRNA poll, 13.9 percent said they would vote for Rafsanjani, a mid-ranking cleric who was president from 1989 to 1997 and currently heads a powerful policy body known as the Expediency Council.

A pragmatic conservative who favours economic liberalisation and improved ties with the West, Rafsanjani, 70, has yet to say if he will stand.

The next most popular candidate was former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist, who was backed by 4.8 percent of those questioned by IRNA.

Former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati led a group of hardline conservative aspirants with 4.2 percent, followed by reformist former Education Minister Mostafa Moin with 4.1 percent and hardliner Ali Larijani with 3.9 percent.

When respondents were asked who they thought would win the election, which takes place against a backdrop of strong U.S. criticism of Iran which Washington accuses of backing terrorism and building nuclear weapons, Rafsanjani's numbers swelled to 28.2 percent.

Karroubi trailed far behind in second place with 8.8 percent, followed by Velayati with 5.6 percent.

If no candidate gains at least 50 percent, the top two vote-getters must face off in a runoff one week later.

Political analysts expect a low turnout for the election due to increasing political disillusionment in Iran following eight years of failed promises of reform under Khatami. IRNA found 51.3 percent said they would "definitely vote".

Despite winning huge popular mandates for improvements in civil rights, democracy and economic liberalisation in 1997 and 2001 elections, Khatami's reform effort has been stymied by powerful unelected hardliners who think reforms will lead to the collapse of the country's system of clerical rule.

Iran's constitution bars him from standing for a third consecutive term."