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Future of Reform Is at Stake in Iran After Hardliners’ Victory in Presidential Election

The conservative mayor of Teheran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, pulled off the biggest political upset in Iran’s post-revolutionary history to win a decisive victory – 62 % – in Friday’s runoff presidential election. Amidst allegations of vote rigging, the conservative mayor faced former two-term Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in the first election on June 17.

Supporter of ex-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
According to official results, Mr. Hashemi had finished first with 21 percent and Mr. Ahmadinejad had placed second with 19 %. Former speaker of Parliament and third-place finisher Mehdi Karroubi accused the government of irregularities during the first election, which responded by shutting down two reformist newspapers planning to publish his remarks.

London-based Iranian journalist Ali Reza Nourizadeh said he was not entirely surprised by the results of the first election. 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 appeared to prefer Mr. Ahmadinejad. According to Mr. Nourizadeh, he has documentary evidence that people who were no long alive had voted on June 17, that other people voted multiple times in different polling stations, and one person had voted as many as 13 times under different names. And he said the results of almost 2.5 million votes cast in the last few hours of the election were “orchestrated” by a center under government control. Furthermore, he predicted – correctly – that the mayor of Teheran would win the runoff.

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 became president, Iran may be drawn into serious confrontations with the United States, with neighboring states in the Middle East, and with Afghanistan. And indeed, the president-elect said that Teheran sees no significant need for improved ties with the United States.

According to President Bush, 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 expressed skepticism after the runoff and said the result would not change the U.S. view of Iran.

At the British Foreign Office, reaction was more “cautious,” according to Oonagh Blackman, political editor of London’s Daily Mirror. But Foreign Secretary Jack Straw indicated that there were, what he called, “serious deficiencies” in the election measured in terms of international standards. Ms. Blackman said she believed 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. The Iranian president-elect has said his government will continue to develop nuclear power for peaceful purposes.

Many regional analysts say that Mr. Ahmadinejad’s landslide victory on June 24 reflects a desire by Iranian voters to improve the economy and rid the nation of corruption. The president-elect vowed to pursue moderation, not extremism, and he called for all sides to put aside their differences and work together. But reformers note that real power in Iran continues to reside with the Ayatollah Khamenei and his Guardian Council.

To listen to all of the comments, click on the audio link above.