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Future of Reform Is at Stake in Iran Presidential Election

By Judith Latham, VOA Washington

Amidst allegations of vote rigging, a former Iranian president and the conservative mayor of Teheran will face one another on Friday in a runoff election for the presidency. According to official results, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani finished first with 21 % and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad placed second with 19 % in last Friday's election. Former speaker of Parliament and third-place finisher Mehdi Karroubi accused the government of irregularities during the election, which responded Monday by shutting down two reformist newspapers planning to publish his remarks.

photo: IRNA

London-based Iranian journalist Ali Reza Nourizadeh said he was not entirely surprised by the results. Speaking with host Judith Latham of VOA News Now's International Press Club, Mr. Nourizadeh indicated he was troubled by the evidence of vote rigging by the supporters of Ayatollah Khamenei, who appears to prefer Mr. Ahmadinejad. According to Mr. Nourizadeh, he has documentary evidence that people who were no long alive had voted last Friday, that other people voted multiple times in different polling stations, and one person had voted as many as 13 times under different names. Furthermore, he says, the results of almost 2.5 million votes cast in the last few hours of last Friday's election were "orchestrated" by a center under government control.

photo: ISNA

Independent Iranian observer and Internet blogger Hossein Derakhshan said he also believes the election was fraudulent and simply cannot understand how Mr. Ahmadinejad, who was a relative unknown outside Teheran, could have come from so far behind to end up in second place. Both Mr. Derakhshan and Mr. Nourizadeh indicated the reformers in Iran are beginning to line up behind former President Rafsanjani, whom they regard as a lesser evil than Mr. Ahmadinejad. Ali Reza Norizadeh said many Iranians fear that, if the fundamentalist mayor of Teheran becomes president, Iran may be drawn into serious confrontations with the United States, with neighboring states in the Middle East, and with Afghanistan.

President Bush has said that presidential elections in Teheran are "designed to keep power" in the hands of rulers who suppress liberty at home and spread terror abroad. And the U.S. State Department described last Friday's election as having fallen "very, very short" of minimum democratic standards.

photo: ISNA

Meanwhile, at the British Foreign Office, reaction was "cautious," according to Oonagh Blackman, political editor of London's Daily Mirror. But she said that members of the Foreign Office are simultaneously worried about the rapid political rise of Mr. Ahmadinejad and optimistic about European dialogue with Iran's leaders, which they hope will continue. And she added their primary concern is to maintain that dialogue.

Because last Friday's election results defied all predictions, this Friday's runoff has generated enormous interest, even though real power in Iran resides with the Ayatollah Khamenei and his Guardian Council.

... Payvand News - 6/24/05 ... --

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