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Iran Reformers Weigh Options for Runoff Vote

With no presidential candidate of their own on the ballot, they can boycott, or back a centrist ex-leader whose record they criticize.

June 20, 2005|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

TEHRAN — Iran's reformers considered Sunday how to respond to the strong showing of this city's conservative mayor in the first round of presidential voting, debating whether to boycott the runoff or unite behind an establishment candidate whom many of them dislike or distrust.

One human rights activist warned that the limited freedoms obtained in Iran during the last eight years were threatened unless reformers and the rest of society united behind ex-President Hashemi Rafsanjani to keep Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from winning Friday's scheduled presidential runoff.

Ahmadinejad shocked most analysts by gaining enough votes in a seven-way race last Friday to qualify for a runoff against Rafsanjani, the preelection favorite who served as president between 1989 and 1997.

Reformers have alleged that Ahmadinejad received inappropriate help from high military and militia officers who mobilized their considerable forces to vote for him. They have offered no proof of their allegations.

The mayor's conservative partisans say that his unapologetic stance in favor of Islam and the values of the 1979 revolution led by the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini won favor, especially with poor and working-class voters.

Rafsanjani is also disliked by many reformers, who accuse him of disregarding human rights and overseeing a period of political and economic stagnation when he was in office. A fixture among Iran's rulers for more than two decades, he now styles himself a "fundamentalist reformer."

By late Sunday, some reformists were moving toward Rafsanjani despite their previous differences. Two reform groups, the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the Islamic Revolution Mujahedin Organization, called on followers to vote for Rafsanjani to head off a hard-line presidency.

"The country faces a danger of direct involvement by military parties," the Participation Front said in a statement quoted by Reuters.

Two reform candidates Saturday leveled charges that the election held a day earlier was marred by interference by conservative forces, but there was little sign that the Guardian Council, the conservative body that oversees elections, intended to take the complaints seriously. Newspapers reported that the runoff between the 49-year-old mayor and Rafsanjani, 70, would go ahead Friday.

The Guardian Council was accused by defeated reform candidate Mehdi Karroubi of being part of the alleged conspiracy that had authorities backing Ahmadinejad, a former Revolutionary Guard officer who was largely unknown until his appointment as mayor of Tehran two years ago. The main reform candidate, Mostafa Moin, also said officials had rigged the vote in favor of Ahmadinejad. Moin finished a dismal fifth in the official tally.

Karroubi issued a public plea Saturday to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to review the voting.

Emad Baghi, an ex-political prisoner and director of the Organization for the Defense of Prisoners' Rights, said he was breaking his silence on political matters to underscore what he saw as an urgent threat caused by the reform movement's weak showing. He told reporters that the success of Ahmadinejad represented a serious bid for power by a fundamentalist wing based in Iran's Revolutionary Guards and pro-government militias known as the Basijis, who are notorious for beating up pro-democracy activists.

At a news conference held for foreign and Iranian journalists Sunday, Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi boasted about the "very large and exciting" election and the reported turnout of 29 million people, or 62% of voters. The final tally announced Saturday night showed Rafsanjani finishing with 21%, or about 6.2 million votes. Ahmadinejad had 19.5%, or 5.7 million. Kharrazi said sardonically that the remarks of President Bush, who had sharply criticized Iran's electoral system last week on the eve of voting, had actually galvanized voters.

"This proves that Americans are not good politicians and not good forecasters of events," he said.

He described as routine reform candidates' complaints about the fairness of the ballot.

"Naturally after an election some candidates will have complaints and there are mechanisms in place to deal with them," he said. "As soon as the Council of Guardians evaluates the complaints, the second round of the election will be set, so we should allow those responsible for this to do their job."

Speaking from Jerusalem, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told network news programs that the election showed that the Iranian leadership was out of step with democratic reforms in the Middle East.

"I find it hard to see how this election could certainly contribute to the sense of legitimacy of the Iranian government," she told ABC's "This Week."

Reformers might have done better in the election but for a partial boycott by voters disenchanted with the Islamic regime and the country's political process.

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