Tehran Election Rallies Bring Out Biggest Crowds Since Revolution
By Charles Recknagel, RFE
Iran is set to elect its next president on June 12
and the run-up is turning into a major showdown of street power.
Overnight, tens of thousands of people turned out in Tehran for competing
Until now, the street has belonged to hard-line President Mahmud Ahmadinejad,
who is running for a second term.
Supporters of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad rally in Tehran on June
His camp, used to dominating the political arena over the past four years and
certain of attention from the state media, filled Tehran's largest prayer ground
on June 8 for a mass denunciation of his leading challenger, reformist candidate
Mir Hossein Musavi.
It hardly mattered that Ahmadinejad himself did not show up. He reportedly was
unable to make his way through his crowds of supporters and left without
Opposition Shows Its Strength
But if so far it's Ahmadinejad's campaign that has been able to fill prayer
grounds the size of stadiums, it was the reformists who stole the spotlight on
Musavi supporters turned out in numbers not seen before to form a human chain
that they claimed ran the entire length of the capital's main north-south
Musavi supporters take to the streets of Tehran.
The reformist shouted slogans against
Ahmadinejad and carried placards reading "lies are forbidden."
"People are walking in the middle of the street and on the sidewalks, they
openly criticize Ahmadinejad's government, we are tired of this demagogy and
lies, everybody is shouting against the lies," one demonstrator told RFE/RL's
The two peaceful but competing rallies blocked traffic across the city. At one
point, supporters of the two camps faced off in the streets, shouting slogans
and waving flags but not clashing.
Combined, the twin rallies produced some of the biggest crowds seen in Tehran
since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. At that time, popular demonstrations toppled
the shah in massive demonstrations of street power.
Now, with just three days to go before the June 12 election, both the
conservative and reformist camps appear to hope huge displays of support will
help sway the result.
Reformists believe that a large voter turnout would favor their candidates, who
include former Prime Minister Musavi and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karrubi.
Both reformists are popular among city-dwellers and younger voters who fault
Ahmadinejad for mismanaging the economy and squandering Iran's oil wealth. The
economy continues to stagnate, with double-digit unemployment and inflation
despite record-high oil prices until recent months.
Victory for Ahmadinejad!
The reformist supporters would like to see Iran
modernize its economy and let economic growth raise incomes.
But Ahmadinejad remains highly popular among rural voters and the poor as he
promises Iran's existing economy will redress disparities of wealth.
The incumbent habitually makes large financial handouts to the poor, in the
tradition of Muslim charity, as he travels the country. He also emphasizes his
own humble origins and expresses disdain for technocrats.
Ahmadinejad has only one conservative challenger, the former chief of the
Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Mohsen Rezai, who is not popular enough to
Opponents Face Off
The prospect of reformist and conservative crowds now trying to sway voter
opinions with mass shows of strength are an unexpected development in the
Iran's reformist camp was all but invisible in terms of street presence four
years ago. Then Ahmadinejad swept to power with 62 percent of the vote in a
runoff poll against Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a more moderate conservative who
allied with the reformist camp.
But with the reformists visibly back in the game now, the race is turning into
an increasingly tense showdown.
Victory for Musavi!
Iran's supreme leader, who holds the final word in
policy decisions under the constitution, warned on June 8 against any further
"I don't want to comment about people coming into the streets, but they should
not turn it into confrontation or clashes between supporters of the candidates,"
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said.
The presidential election comes as Iran continues its showdown with the United
Nations over its controversial nuclear program, which the West says is intended
to develop nuclear weapons.
Ahmadinejad has sharply confronted the West over Iran's nuclear program and
regularly denounces the United States and Israel.
His reformist challengers, who also support Iran's nuclear program, have charged
him with needlessly isolating Iran.
Musavi's supporters say a more flexible presidential style is needed with
critical issues, including possible talks with Washington, so long as they don't
damage Iran's interests.
Copyright (c) 2009 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org
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