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Tehran Mayor Scores Upset Presidential Win

  • Gary Thomas

The mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has pulled off the biggest political upset in Iran's post-revolutionary history. He beat his older, better-known, and far more politically experienced opponent, former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in Friday's runoff election.

Dawn was just about to break over the Iranian capital when Interior Ministry officials broke the news that Mahmood Ahmadinejad, the hardline mayor of Tehran, had won the presidency.

Mr. Ahmadinejad won by a wide margin, taking around 61 percent of the vote.

Around 49 percent of Iran's 47 million eligible voters came out to cast ballots, well down from the 63 percent of the first round.

It was a stunning come-from-behind victory by a man who was so little known that he was not even considered a serious contender in the first round of voting June 17. But he surged ahead of other candidates in the seven-candidate field to take second place and earn the right to challenge first-place finisher Mr. Rafsanjani.

The campaign was brief but bitter, with the Ahmadinejad camp painting Mr. Rafsanjani as the Iranian equivalent of a tired political hack and the Rafsanjani camp portraying Mr. Ahmadinejad as an extremist bent on rolling back reform.

With their own candidates knocked out in the first round, reformists reluctantly backed Mr. Rafsanjani.

Mr. Rafsanjani pledged to keep reforms in place, bolster investment, and explore the possibility of a new relationship with the United States.

But Mr. Ahmadinejad hammered home his populist message with promises to help the poor and redistribute oil wealth. It was a platform with strong appeal to economically strapped Iranians.

"I voted for Ahmadinejad because of the unemployment situation," a South Tehran voter said.

Mr. Rafsanjani apparently knew his opponent's platform was reaching voters. At the very end of campaigning Wednesday, Mr. Rafsanjani suddenly announced a plan to distribute stock options in privatized state firms to ordinary Iranians. But it was a case of too little, too late for the former president, who went down a crushing defeat.