Tuesday, June 21, 2005

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iran gears up for tense run-off

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Iran gears up for tense run-off: "Iran gears up for tense run-off

Friday's vote is seen as having huge implications for Iran's future
Heated campaigning is under way in Iran ahead of an unprecedented presidential election run-off on Friday.
Iranians are being urged to vote in what is shaping up to be a straight fight between reformers and hardliners.

Conservative Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came a surprise second place behind former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in last week's poll.

The reformist Interior Ministry has warned the run-off is in greater danger of being rigged than the first round.

On Monday, the Guardian Council, in charge of the election, dismissed claims of vote-rigging in last Friday's poll after carrying out a partial recount of 100 ballot boxes in four cities.

But the number of boxes recounted is just a tiny fraction of the overall total and does not include remote rural areas where fraud might be easier, correspondents say.

'Cast vote wisely'

Moderates, who last week were urging a boycott of the presidential election, have now called on people to back "pragmatic conservative" cleric Mr Rafsanjani in the run-off.

Student leader Sajjad Ghoroghi said activists were going out across the country to campaign against the unashamedly hardline Mr Ahmadinejad.

FIRST-ROUND RESULTS

Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani - 21%
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - 19.5%
Mehdi Karroubi - 17.3%
Source: Iranian interior ministry


Press takes stock

"We will be fighting hard across the country to defeat him," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Reformist candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, who narrowly lost out on second place, told voters: "Don't be hopeless, cast your votes wisely for the sake of Islam, Iran and to fight backwardness and power-seeking."

And outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami also gave his implicit backing to Mr Rafsanjani by urging people to vote for "moderation" and against "reactionaries".

Reformers fear Mr Ahmadinejad will fill all government posts with hardliners, role back the social reform process and take a far more anti-western stance than Mr Rafsanjani.

'Touched hearts'

But analysts say Mr Ahmadinejad's campaign has won support from many of Iran's religious poor who have lost faith in Mr Rafsanjani.

"We can identify with him. His style is humble and not luxurious," stallholder Mehdi Nasrollahi was quoted by The Guardian newspaper as saying.


Does it really matter who becomes the next president when literally, he won't have any power?

Mr Ahmadinejad's team are optimistic of his chances on Friday.

"We will win the run-off," close aide Naser Qomian said. "Iranians have felt Ahmadinejad in their hearts. Iranians are fed up with Rafsanjani, who did little to improve the life of the poor."

Allegations of dirty tricks continue to surround the election, with the reformist-controlled Interior Ministry warning that it would not be able to control voting malpractice on Friday.

The ministry said that days before the first round unnamed "institutions whose job is to protect people, organised and orchestrated" the vote.

They were referring to the Islamic militia groups whose members were allegedly mobilised to support the hardliners' favourite candidate.

"They might do it again and even stronger this time... We will do our best to confront that," said Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani.

"Some people in order to stay in power, are ready to do anything to deviate the election," he added."