Monday, June 20, 2005

Rafsanjani allies seek vote unity - "form an anti-fascist front"

Rafsanjani allies seek vote unity - Breaking News - World - Breaking News: "Rafsanjani allies seek vote unity
June 20, 2005 - 5:59AM

Iranian reformists are urging their supporters to snap out of their dejection and rally behind cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to prevent his surprise hardline challenger Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from winning a presidential run-off next Friday.

"We should use our full force to defend Rafsanjani. We should form an anti-fascist front," said Hamid Reza Jalalipour, a leader of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front.

Another reformist party, the Islamic Revolution Mujahideen Organisation, led by Behzad Nabavi, also threw its weight behind Rafsanjani despite its differences with him.

It cited the "orchestrated involvement of military bodies and entities ... in favour of the most radical anti-reform faction" and said Iran was in peril from fascism.

Similarly, hardliners called for conservatives to close ranks behind Tehran ex-mayor Ahmadinejad, who almost overhauled elder statesman Rafsanjani in the first-round vote.

Siyasat-e-Ruz newspaper said conservatives could have won outright if they had settled on one candidate. "However, it is not too late now ... Unity must top our agenda," it said.

Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad, with about a fifth of the vote each, just pulled clear of their five rivals in a poll damned by Washington as a travesty of the democracy Iranians yearned for.

"I just don't see the Iranian elections as being a serious attempt to move Iran closer to a democratic future," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Fox News.

She criticised the legitimacy of the electoral process, in which unelected clerics barred most of the 1,000 presidential hopefuls, including all the women, from standing.

Those defects prompted some Iranian reformists, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, to boycott the poll.

"As long as they (the clerical establishment) decide for people and tell people whom to vote for by qualifying and disqualifying candidates, I will not vote," she told Reuters.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed the 63 per cent turnout as a slap to "ignorant enemy" President George W Bush.

Iranians now face a stark choice on their country's future in the first run-off election since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

A senior Rafsanjani aide urged reformists, secularists and moderate conservatives to unite behind the former president to maintain a political balance against "militarist" tendencies.

"We all can hear the footsteps of fascism," Mohammad Atrianfar said. "If we create a united front for a national coalition, we will win the Friday election."

He echoed accusations from Moin's camp that Ahmadinejad had used Basij religious militiamen to help get out the vote.

"Using a paramilitary organisation to mobilise voters is a very dangerous move," Atrianfar said.

The daily Sharq, which Atrianfar controls, said voting for Rafsanjani was the only way to stop religious hardliners from gaining a monopoly on Iran's ruling institutions.

"We can call him arrogant and criticise his preference for development over democracy," wrote columnist Mohammad Qouchani, "(but) now we clearly see that Rafsanjani is the only choice left for preserving democracy in Iran."

Though Rafsanjani does not challenge clerical rule, he is seen as a counterweight to the hardline anti-Western elite and has called for a "new chapter" in Iran-US relations.

While Rafsanjani, 70, has promised to improve ties with the West and preserve social freedoms, his 49-year-old opponent has focused on tackling poverty and maintaining Islamic values.

"My government will support the poor and the deprived," Ahmadinejad said after the first-round vote."