Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Recount Shows No Vote Rigging in Presidential Poll - Yahoo! News

Iran rejects rigging charges in presidential poll - Yahoo! News: "Iran rejects rigging charges in presidential poll By Paul Hughes
Mon Jun 20, 5:11 PM ET

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Officials dismissed rigging allegations in Iran's presidential election on Monday, clearing the way for a run-off vote that could have a major impact on relations with the West and the future of fragile reforms.

Friday's run-off will be between the top two candidates in last week's first round -- pragmatic former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and hardline Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- and many political analysts say the result is unpredictable.

Rafsanjani, 70, bidding to regain the post he held from 1989 to 1997, rebranded himself as a liberal for the campaign, saying the time was right to open a new chapter in Iran-U.S. ties and signaling he would increase social and political freedoms.

His surprise rival Ahmadinejad, 49, who would be Iran's first non-cleric president for 24 years, ran a campaign focusing on the need to tackle poverty and has said resuming talks with Washington would not solve the Islamic Republic's ills.

Iran's hardline Guardian Council, which has the final word on election results, ordered a recount from 100 ballot boxes in four cities after reformists alleged rigging. It was a tiny fraction of tens of thousands of ballot boxes used last week.

"It has been clarified there was no discrepancy in the election results," the council said after the recount.

It said fifth-placed reformist candidate Mostafa Moin had asked for a postponement of the run-off. Third-placed reformist cleric Mehdi Karroubi had said some Ahmadinejad votes were paid for with bribes.

NEWSPAPER SHUT

A newspaper which printed Karroubi's charges in a letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was shut by the judiciary. There have been no popular protests over the results.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli described the election as "highly ... unrepresentative and certainly not responsive to what the Iranian people are looking for, which is more participation, not less; more freedoms, not less; and more democracy, not less."

The United States has accused Iran of having a secret nuclear weapons program. Tehran denies the charge, saying its nuclear program is solely for power generation, but has held negotiations with Western officials.

Addressing hardline lawmakers in parliament on Monday, Ahmadinejad criticized the present government's approach to talks with the West.

"Those who are in negotiations are frightened and don't know the people," he was quoted as saying by the ISNA students news agency. "A popular and fundamentalist government will quickly change the country's stance in favor of the nation."

Reformists, some of whom accuse state military organizations like the Basij militia of supporting Ahmadinejad, say he is part of an ultra-conservative, totalitarian plan.

"If he wins Khamenei will really rule everything," said Mohammad Reza Khatami, head of Iran's largest reform party. "We will not have free elections and opposition voices won't be tolerated," he told Reuters.

Islamic hard-liners, many of them former Revolutionary Guards members, won control of many city councils and Iran's parliament in 2003 and 2004 elections which were marred by low turnout.

Rafsanjani, alluding to "organized interference" in the vote, urged Iranians to help him defeat Ahmadinejad.

"I seek your help and ask you to be present in the second round of the election so that we can prevent all extremism," he said in a statement published in several newspapers.

RAFSANJANI BACKED BY REFORMISTS

Reformists have rallied behind Rafsanjani, viewing him as the lesser of two evils. "Although we may not agree with all Rafsanjani's programs, we have to support him," Khatami said.

The largest pro-reform student group, which boycotted last week's vote, also said it would campaign for Rafsanjani.

Many political analysts, while surprised by Ahmadinejad's strong showing in the first round, said reformists had provided no concrete evidence of vote-rigging and had underestimated the mayor's strong support among Iran's large mass of pious poor.

"Ahmadinejad sold himself as a Robin Hood -- hardworking, honest, a man of the people," said one analyst, who declined to be named. "He represents the resentment of people toward those who are doing better, driving fancy cars and so on."

Mohsen Faraji, a member of the Basiji militia that enforces social restrictions such as Islamic dress codes for women, said a win for Ahmadinejad, who outlawed billboards of English soccer star David Beckham in Tehran, would herald a new era for Iran.

"History will remember this election," said the 25-year-old. "A wave of change is coming. People want Ahmadinejad as he's one of them."

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Edmund Blair, Amir Paivar and Christian Oliver)"