Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Iranian Youth Take To The Streets In Huge Pro-Rafsanjani Dance Party

ABC News: Presidential candidates court youth vote in Iran: "Presidential candidates court youth vote in Iran
Iranian supporters sit at the campaign centre for former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Iran's 2005 presidential candidate, north of Tehran, June 1, 2005. Rafsanjani launched a reformist election platform on June 1, promising to create more jobs, ease social restrictions and forge better relations with the world. The pragmatic conservative, who was president from 1989 to 1997, holds a commanding lead in opinion polls ahead of the June 17 elections. Photo by Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters
Reuters

Jun 1, 2005 — By Paul Hughes

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian presidential candidates vied on Wednesday to win over the youth vote, promising less interference by religious police in their daily lives and better social, cultural and employment opportunities.

The youth vote will be a major battleground in the June 17 presidential race with half of Iran's disproportionately youthful population under the age of 25 and a minimum voting age of 15.

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Young Iranians voted en masse in 1997 and 2001 to elect reformist cleric Mohammad Khatami, who is ineligible to stand for a third consecutive term.

But many have grown disenchanted after Khatami's failure to overhaul Islamic rules governing censorship and mingling between the sexes, reverse Iran's political isolation from the West and transform the inefficient, state-run economy.

Eager to harness this support, most of the eight candidates have used campaign messages to try to appeal to the young.

"Young people are our assets … we cannot expect their high performance while limiting their freedoms," said front-runner Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate conservative who is bidding to regain the post he held from 1989 to 1997.

Former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist cleric, pledged to safeguard people's rights. "When people are not informed of their rights, the ground is prepared for … people to violate others' rights and freedom," he said.

Even hard-liner Mohsen Rezaie, who commanded Iran's feared Revolutionary Guards from 1981 to 1997, said people have the right to behave as they want in private. "I am against state interference in people's private lives," he told Reuters. "I want to institutionalise freedoms and democracy in the country."

PARTY ON WHEELS

Carloads of young Iranians snaked through streets in upscale north Tehran in support of Rafsanjani on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Their cars plastered with posters of the smiling cleric, young boys in cut-off T-shirts and girls wearing bright make-up and sunglasses flashed victory signs and bobbed to throbbing dance music in violation of strict Islamic moral codes.

In another part of Tehran hundreds of youngsters clapped and sang on Tuesday in support of former Higher Education Minister Mostafa Moin, an outspoken reformist who has pledged to free political prisoners and tackle human rights abuses if elected.

The hardline Jomhuri-ye Eslami newspaper criticized the improper dress and behavior of those at the pro-Moin rally.

"In this mixed-sex gathering, girls were holding Moin's picture with their uncovered hands and performed a Mexican dance with their rhythmic moves," it said.

Illustrating the fine line candidates must tread to avoid upsetting religiously conservative supporters, Rafsanjani's campaign denied organising the rallies in his support.

"Hashemi and those working in his campaign respect all laws and regulations, especially those of Islam," said campaign spokesman Mohammad Baqer Nobakht.

A new opinion poll published on Wednesday showed Rafsanjani leading the field of eight with 34.8 percent support.

But Rafsanjani's polling numbers have been fairly static in recent weeks and well short of the 50 percent needed to avoid a run-off against his closest rival.

The poll of 1,645 people in Tehran conducted on May 25-27 by the Iran Students Polling Agency showed former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a more traditional conservative, in second place with 11.2 percent. The biggest improvement was shown by Moin, who surged to third place with 9.9 percent.

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