Sunday, June 19, 2005

Karrubi's Great Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth

News: "Home > News > World > Middle East

Rafsanjani to face hardliner in second Iran vote
By Angus McDowall in Tehran
19 June 2005
Iranians face a second-round ballot for the first time after Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, a hardliner, surged to a close second place in Friday's presidential election behind Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Mehdi Karroubi, a reformist, said the vote was rigged after being edged out by the hardliner. Both challengers made strong showings as reformist Mostafa Moin slumped to fifth place. Mr Rafsanjani, a former president and the favourite, scored 21 per cent, as Mr Ahmadi-Nejad and Mr Karroubi took 19 per cent and 17.5 per cent. Mr Moin came in at under 13 per cent. The two front-runners will face a second poll on Friday.

The promise of a monthly £30 stipend to each Iranian propelled Mr Karroubi, previously written off, into late contention. The apparently massive vote for Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, Tehran Mayor, has also come as a surprise. Analysts said his last-minute surge could be a result of late mobilisation by the Basij Islamic militia and advice given by right-leaning clerics.

"I want to find out if Karroubi will give our oil money back," said Ahmad Qasem, 71, who lives on the income from a few sheep and cows in the village of Adoran, south-west of Tehran. "It's lies of course, he can't give us any money but I'll vote because it's my duty." Mr Qasem has joined a groundswell of poor rural support for Mr Karroubi.

Mr Karroubi, from mountainous Luristan in the west, unveiled his plans for a cash stipend earlier this year, which he says would be created by saving domestic fuel consumption. Although Iran has the world's second largest oil reserves, it is a net importer of refined petrol because of low refining capacity. He has accused the hardliner of vote rigging and called for a full inquiry and said he was willing to produce evidence of a plot involving the Basij, the revolutionary guards and the Guardian Council. He said faked identity papers were distributed among Basij, allowing them to cast extra ballots.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad was successful among urban working class voters. "He has been very successful running Tehran and has stopped corruption," said Mohammed Hossein, an airforce recruit. "I think he would do that as president too." Voters have also warmed to the humility projected by the former revolutionary guard, which is apparent in his simple and straightforward election posters.

The diminutive hardliner will again be seen as an outsider against Mr Rafsanjani, who most Tehran residents predicted would win. "Ahmadi-Nejad is also good but because of the US pressure right now we need somebody to handle the situation," said Nasser Mohammedi, a retired colonel reduced to driving cabs for his pension.

The high turnout of 62 per cent was immediately lauded by the religious establishment and reformists, who said it undermined the US's attempts to dismiss the poll.

A second presidential ballot is uncharted territory. Mr Rafsanjani could benefit from an increase in support from the left, but given the surprising nature of Friday's voting, all bets could be off. "