Saturday, June 04, 2005

Khaleej Times Online - Iran's Khamenei urges big turnout to confound enemies

Khaleej Times Online: "Iran's Khamenei urges big turnout to confound enemies
(Reuters)

4 June 2005
TEHERAN - Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called on Saturday for a big turnout in the June 17 presidential polls as a sign that the Iranian people still support the clerical establishment.

As hundreds of thousands of Iranians flocked to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's mausoleum to mark the 16th anniversary of his death, Khamenei, his successor, said a low turnout would benefit only the nation's enemies.

"People's presence at the polls will make the country, Islam and the nation's future immune to the enemies' plots," Khamenei said in a speech broadcast live on state media.

Officials of all factions came to the mausoleum to pay tribute to Khomeini, the driving force behind the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the shah.

Outgoing President Mohammad Khatami sat close to the leading presidential candidate, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is bidding to regain the post he held from 1989 to 1997.

Khatami was elected by landslides in 1997 and 2001, but his attempts to create a freer society have repeatedly been blocked by hardliners who control the courts and the armed forces, leading many young voters to turn their back on politics.

Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters and control over foreign policy, accused Western media and other enemies of trying to discourage Iranian voters.

"We take pride in elections as it was Khomeini's legacy ... I know the nation will defeat the enemy by voting," he said.

Political analysts say the ruling clerics believe a low turnout would increase domestic and foreign pressure on Iran, which Washington has branded a rogue state, accusing it of sponsoring "terrorism" and trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Khamenei also vowed to pursue the guidelines set by Khomeini, such as respecting "freedom" and "Islamic" democracy. "No one can deny the role of people in the Islamic Iran."

Rafsanjani is considered the most moderate of the five conservative candidates vying to replace Khatami, who is barred from standing for a third consecutive term. Three reformists are also standing.

Rafsanjani holds a commanding lead in opinion polls but is still well short of the 50 percent support he needs to avoid a run-off vote.

Most of the eight candidates, including Rafsanjani, have been wooing the youth vote, promising in their campaign messages to create more jobs and ease social restrictions.

Half the country's 67 million people are under 25 and the minimum voting age is 15.

But some young voters, disillusioned by Khatami's inability to push through reforms, seem set to challenge the Islamic state by staying at home and handing the clerics a moral defeat.

"Why should I vote? Was Khatami able to carry out his reform agenda?" asked Saleh Kheirian, a 24-year-old unemployed chemist."