TEHRAN, 20 Jun 2005 (IRIN) - Iran's reformists were left reeling after a hard-line conservative candidate swept into second place in the presidential elections. Voters must now decide between Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and powerful ex-president and cleric, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the country's first ever presidential election run-off on Friday.
The shock win by Ahmadinejad prompted unprecedented accusations of ballot rigging by centrist reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi. On Monday, Tehran announced a partial recount in four cities to try and ascertain whether voting or vote counting irregularities had occured.
"I see this election as being rigged," charged Karoubi, who came in third, with 17.46 percent of the vote. "Some centres of power are violating the law and are trying to get more votes for a particular person with the help of the Guardian Council," he told reporters at a news conference. Karoubi also said that some members of the Basij militia were allowed to vote more than once.
The main reformist candidate, Mostafa Moin, trailed in fourth place leaving many questioning the reform movement altogether. Moin also said that his camp had noted irregularities.
"We protested over the presence of Basiji supervisors in the polling centres and Dr Moin will issue a statement," his spokeswoman, Elaheh Koulaie, told the official news agency IRNA.
Karroubi has resigned from his post as a special advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and from the expediency council, a non-elective body that arbitrates in constitutional disputes.
At least one reformist paper has been shut down by order of Tehran prosecutor general, Said Mortazavi, for printing a letter Karroubi wrote to Khamenei demanding an inquiry into allegations of poll rigging. Several other papers ran only excerpts of the letter after being intimidated by the prosecutor general's office, according to reformist sources.
Ahmadinejdad's win demonstrates the power of the conservatives. Observers say that hard-line officials mobilised armies of Islamic militia voters through a network of mosques and government institutions. He also secured the poor, working class vote with his populist economics and promises of greater subsidies and loans.
Ahmadinejad is a devotee of the Supreme Leader. He has a track record of anti-Western policies and is known for banning the image of British footballer David Beckham from billboards in Iran as a drive to fight 'Westoxification'. He also enforced strict Islamic dress code among municipal workers, including facial hair for men.
He will now face Rafsanjani, known as a wily pragmatist. While Ahmadinejad is against ties with the West or a transparent nuclear programme, Rafsanjani is seen as the man who can solve Iran's nuclear crisis and end Iran's 25-year Cold War with the US. He has campaigned with a strongly reformist agenda, promising a loosening of social strictures for the young.
"I have promised people to continue reforms and I am sure I can deliver my promises," Rafsanjani said after voting. Even though it will be a tight race, analysts are saying that many who boycotted the elections and those who voted reformist will now vote for Rafsanjani to ensure a conservative defeat. The Islamic Iranian Participation Front, the main reformist party, is now backing Rafsanjani.
Turnout for the elections was 63 percent, far higher than predicted and a relief to the regime which was desperate for a high turnout in order to legitimise the government. Analysts say that President Bush's remarks questioning the democratic nature of the elections may have driven many non-voters to the ballots, in a surge on nationalistic sentiment.
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