Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Reformer Leads Iran Pre-Vote Poll

Reformer Leads Iran Pre-Vote Poll: "Thursday, May 12, 2005. Issue 3163.

Reformer Leads Iran Pre-Vote Poll
TEHRAN, Iran -- Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's bid for an unprecedented third term as Iranian president drew mixed reactions on Wednesday, but most agreed the wily pragmatist cleric was the favorite to win the June 17 vote.

Rafsanjani, 70, ended weeks of uncertainty late Tuesday by announcing he would stand for the post he held for two terms from 1989 to 1997 to save the Islamic state from the grip of extremists and to "build international confidence."

Unofficial opinion polls have placed Rafsanjani, a moderate conservative who has made several attempts to improve Iran's ties with the United States, with a clear lead over his nearest rival.

But polls also favored Rafsanjani before 2000 parliamentary elections, in which he was forced to withdraw his candidacy for a parliament seat because he obtained embarrassingly few votes.

In 2000 Rafsanjani faced a wildly popular reformist movement, analysts said. Now, the eight-year reformist experiment led by outgoing President Mohammad Khatami is perceived as having failed.

This time, analyst Mahmoud Alinejad said, the main alternative to Rafsanjani was a group of hard-line opponents who are seen as having a more hostile view on relations with the West, social freedoms and economic liberalization.

But the road to the June 17 election is likely to be a rocky one for Rafsanjani.

Political opponents are lining up to expose alleged skeletons in his closet relating to corruption and human rights abuses dating from his period as president. Critics have also poured scorn on his hints that he would be able to mend Iran's relationship with Washington.

Running second in polls is former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, 43, whose reputation as a modernizer has won him early support."