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Hard-line Presidential Candidate's Victory Shocks Iranian Reform Movement

In Iran, the conservative mayor of the capital has won a decisive victory in Friday's runoff presidential election. The president-elect is calling for reconciliation, after an especially bitter political contest. Reformists are in shock over the results.

Iran's reformers are in a state of shock at the the upset victory of Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the presidential race.

According to official results Saturday, Mr. Ahmadinejad polled nearly 62 percent of the approximately 28 million ballots cast in Friday's runoff election. His better known opponent, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, won almost 36 percent. The rest of the ballots were declared invalid.

In a taped post-election message, Mr. Ahmadinejad appealed for national reconciliation, and said his goal is to create a modern, advanced and Islamic society in Iran.

Hassan Mortazavirad, a reformist who is on the steering committee of the Islamic Students' Association at Tehran University, said it was the size of the victory that shocked him more than anything else. However, he says, he accepts the Ahmadinejad win, and hopes the reformists can learn something from their mistakes.

"This is democracy and I accept it," he said. "Seventeen, [million] 18 million people wanted it. I don't know. We have made mistakes in the past. This has happened. Maybe, we have forgotten what people want."

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who had been dismissed as a serious contender, got second place in the seven-candidate field of the first round of voting June 17, just behind Mr. Rafsanjani, a cleric and former president, who had positioned himself as a moderate.

Many of Iran's reformists grudgingly supported Mr. Rafsanjani only as an alternative to the staunchly conservative Mr. Ahmadinejad. In the brief but bitter runoff campaign, Mr. Ahmadinejad, a hardliner and former Revolutionary Guard, ran as a populist, promising relief for the poor and unemployed.

Mr. Mortazavirad says reformers ignored those so-called pocketbook issues. He believes newfound incremental freedoms won over the past eight years are now in jeopardy.

"Maybe they're rumors, but I myself believe we are going to have some difficult times, especially in expressing one's self, and, also, in rebuilding the lost trust that was put into the reform process eight years ago, and it has now gone away," he said.

Ibrahim Yazdi, who was foreign minister under Iran's first provisional government after the Islamic revolution, is now head of the Freedom Movement of Iran. He tried to run for president, but the Council of Guardians - an unelected body of clerics that vets political candidates - barred him and hundreds of other candidates, many of them reformers and women, from competing. Mr. Yazdi says Iranian reformists have learned an important lesson in this election.

"In democracy, we cannot fly in the sky, we have to walk on the ground," he said. "Therefore, I think this is a very important and promising development in Iran, that political activists are coming more and more to act according to the reality of the political arrangement, not according to their idealism. This election shows very clearly what has happened."

He adds that the election underscored sharp differences in Iran's political-religious establishment.

"In this election, the competition between Hashemi and Ahmadinejad actually manifested a great gap, or difference, between the topmost players in the Islamic Republic," he said. "Hashemi was a very influential instrument in the whole hierarchy. Now, he has [been] kicked out by another branch of the government. So, this will have a very deep impact on the political arrangement in Iran for the future."

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei said the election results had humiliated the United States, which had sharply criticized what President Bush said was the undemocratic nature of the polls.