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Hard-Liner Wins Decisively in Iran Presidential Election

Ahmadinejad's victory signals the return of an Islamic fundamentalist government and is likely to alter the dynamic in nuclear negotiations.

June 25, 2005|John Daniszewski | Times Staff Writer

TEHRAN — The mayor of Tehran won Iran's presidency in a landslide Friday, using support from the clerical hierarchy and the country's vast military to restore total control of the government to Islamic fundamentalists and end an eight-year experiment in reform.

Partial returns released by the official news agency early today gave Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a political newcomer, more than 61% of the vote in his runoff contest with former President Hashemi Rafsanjani. Officials said the turnout was about 48% of the 47 million eligible voters, well short of the 63% reported in the first round of balloting a week ago.

Voters divided by class and ideology went to the polls in a battle for Iran's future, with many of the poor favoring the fundamentalist mayor, who vowed to end corruption and bring back revolutionary fervor. More affluent and liberal Iranians had regarded Rafsanjani, a centrist, as the last hope for reform.

With 18.4 million votes counted, Ahmadinejad had garnered 61.5%, an official with the Guardian Council said, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency. The Guardian Council, a conservative body of clerics and lawyers, supervises elections.

After being roundly rebuffed by voters in the last two presidential elections, conservatives regained control by painting the reformist camp, represented by outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, as corrupt, ineffectual and out of touch with ordinary people.

They were also helped by a trend among many opponents of the Islamic Republic's religious elite to reject reform as impossible in a country where the constitution gives the unelected supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, control of the main levers of power, including the judiciary and armed forces.

The hard-line victory would appear to rule out any early improvement in relations between Iran and the West and could increase the chance of confrontation with the United States over Iran's nuclear development program, which Ahmadinejad has praised.

Unlike Rafsanjani, the mayor had said that better ties with the United States would not be a priority. He also has voiced disdain for Western-style democracy.

"We did not have a revolution in order to have democracy," he said last week.

Supporters of Ahmadinejad will go to mosques and "thank God for this great victory," campaign manager Ali Akbar Javanfekr told Associated Press.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore reiterated criticism that U.S. officials had leveled at Iran before the first round of voting.

"With the conclusion of the elections in Iran, we have seen nothing that dissuades us from our view that Iran is out of step with the rest of the region and the currents of freedom and liberty that have been so apparent in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon," she said. "These elections were flawed from the inception by the decision of an unelected few to deny the applications of over 1,000 candidates, including all 93 women."

Before the polls closed, there were complaints of irregularities at some Tehran voting places as conservatives and reformers clashed over the alleged presence of Islamic militiamen.

The reformist-controlled Interior Ministry asked for the closure of at least six stations to clear out the irregulars, who have backed Ahmadinejad, but the request was turned down by the Guardian Council, news agencies said.

Officials repeatedly extended the period for voting before finally ordering stations closed at 11 p.m., four hours after the scheduled closing time.

The two candidates provided a study in contrasts within the Islamic system.

Rafsanjani, at 70, was the old, familiar face -- too familiar for many. The wheeler-dealer millionaire cleric had been part of the country's ruling clique since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. President from 1989 to 1997, he has since been head of the Expediency Council, which resolves conflicts inside the government.

Long known for political wiles and pragmatism, he styled himself a reformer and had said that only he could save the limited freedoms allowed during Khatami's tenure.

Election banners along Vali Asr, Tehran's main street, said Rafsanjani would take Iran into the future, not back to the past. Opponents, however, accused him of lavish living and putting relatives into lucrative posts.

Ahmadinejad, 48, has never held an elected office and has been the appointed mayor of Tehran for just two years. A former Revolutionary Guard and instructor for the pro-government Basiji militia, he talks tough toward Iran's enemies and promises to reverse what he views as the watering down of the militant politics of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Islamic Republic's founder. He has a strong following in the military and among working-class Iranians and the clergy.

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