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Rafsanjani faces hardliner in Iran vote
By Gareth Smyth in Tehran
Published: June 19 2005 19:04 | Last updated: June 19 2005 19:04

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad arrived for a press conference at the weekend speaking as if already president of Iran.

“Elections are competitions not for power, but to serve the people,” said Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, 49, Tehran's mayor since fundamentalist Islamic conservatives took city hall two years ago and a war veteran.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad faces a run-off against Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the pragmatic former president, in Friday's second round. He took many by surprise, when he won 5.71m votes (19.48 per cent) in last Friday's election, becoming runner-up to Mr Rafsanjani on 6.15m votes (21 per cent).

Both men narrowly pipped Mehdi Karrubi, the reformist cleric, on 17.2 per cent. Trailing him were Mohammad-Baqer Qalibaf, former police chief, on 13.9 per cent, and Mostafa Moein, the main reformist, on 13.8 per cent.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad overcame fears among fundamentalist conservatives that a three-way split would scupper their presidential chances. His late surge overcame both Mr Qalibaf, running as a conservative moderniser, and Ali Larijani, ex-head of state broadcasting. “While the fundamentalists failed to agree from the top on a joint candidate, a consensus emerged lower down,” said Amir Mohebian, political editor of Resalat, a conservative newspaper. “Mr Qalibaf's campaign [emphasising up-to-date management and technology] alienated core fundamentalist voters.”

The mobilisation for Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, apparently through informal circles of Revolutionary Guards, the Basij [Islamic militia] and some clerics, came in the final three days. Both Dr Moein and Mr Karrubi alleged the Basij had broken the law in backing a particular candidate.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad was backed throughout the campaign by Abadgaran, the Tehran-based fundamentalist grouping that successfully organised victory in the capital's 2003 municipal election and then won a strong influence in the national parliament. He also reached out to ordinary Iranians bamboozled by slick electioneering and cynical about politicians' intentions.

The mayor's campaign promoted his piety and record in the 1980-88 war with Iraq.

In a country with 15 per cent inflation, 12 per cent unemployment and GDP per head of $2,000, many poorer people resent the alleged opulence of Mr Rafsanjani and his family. Mr Rafsanjani did little to convince Iranians he was offering specifics on day-to-day economic issues, speaking vaguely of economic development.

On international issues, Mr Rafsanjani's call for improved relations with the west did little to counter Iranians' suspicion about outside “interference”. “Many Iranians fear Mr Rafsanjani would compromise national interest on the nuclear issue,” said a leading reformist journalist, referring to long-running negotiations with the European Union over a nuclear programme Tehran insists is peaceful.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, by contrast, recently said Iran had “shown too much good-will vis-a-vis the US and Europe” and that Iranians would not accept “unprincipled decisions”. Iranian reformists on Sunday urged their supporters to rally behind Mr Rafsanjani to preventMr Ahmadi-Nejad winning the run-off, Reuters reported. "