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Vote-Rigging Feared in Iran Election

Associated Press | June 19, 2005
By KATHY GANNON

TEHRAN, Iran — The front-runner in Iran's presidential runoff sought to rally moderates Sunday by warning that his hard-line opponent would run a totalitarian regime. The statement from the campaign manager for Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani came amid suspicions the powerful Revolutionary Guard would rig the runoff vote for conservatives.

Rafsanjani's campaign manager, Mohammed Baghir Nowbakht, said Friday's runoff was crucial because hard-liners would not tolerate differences of opinions if elected and would run a "totalitarian" regime.

"They would never let other groups participate in the government," he said.

One losing candidate already has accused the Revolutionary Guard and its vigilante supporters of fixing votes during the first round of balloting. None of the seven candidates received the necessary 51 percent to win outright, forcing the runoff.

Rafsanjani -- president in 1989-1997 -- finished first in Friday's balloting with only 21 percent of the vote. That was barely half the 40 percent most political analysts had predicted he would get.

But an even bigger surprise was the emergence of Tehran's hard-line Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- a former Revolutionary Guard commander -- as the voters' second choice. He received more than 19 percent.

Ahmadinejad, 49, is unabashedly conservative, resurrecting the fervor of the 1979 Islamic Revolution during the campaign by saying Iran "did not have a revolution in order to have democracy."

"Under no circumstances was Ahmadinejad regarded as a close rival to Rafsanjani. The result has been a shock and has generated doubts in people's minds who think that the election may have been rigged," Iranian analyst Davoud Hermidas Bavand told The Associated Press. "It seems the process was manipulated."

Former Parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi, who finished behind Ahmadinejad by less than two-tenths of a percentage point, has written to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei demanding he guarantee that the Revolutionary Guard will not manipulate the runoff, which is set for next Friday.

The letter also asked for an investigation into charges the Revolutionary Guard and vigilante groups pressured voters in four provinces. Khamenei heads the Islamic theocracy and can overrule the president or parliament.

Karroubi's senior campaign manager, Ibrahim Amini, accused the armed forces of "meddling in the political affairs and in some of the provinces -- like Esfahan, Yazd, Qom, Khorazon Razavi and Tehran -- where they changed the votes."

Karroubi has not received a reply, Amini said.

The Revolutionary Guard, a well-funded force of about 200,000 troops, is independent of the armed forces and answers directly to the Islamic leadership and not elected officials.

Gen. Alireza Afshar, deputy head of Iran's armed forces, reveled in the results.

"A political tsunami in Iran has taken its enemies by surprise and has caused a loss of face for (President) Bush and showed the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Afshar said in a statement carried by the state-run Islamic Republic New Agency.

Bush denounced the election a day before voting, saying it was designed to maintain power in the hands of an unelected few who denied ballot access to more than 1,000 potential candidates. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice repeated that criticism Sunday, noting that women were not allowed on the ballot.

"I just don't see the Iranian elections as being a serious attempt to move Iran closer to a democratic future," she said on ABC's "This Week."

Rafsanjani, 70, once was considered a hard-liner but since has moderated his stand and now is referred to as a pragmatist and savvy politician. He remains a powerful political figure as chairman of the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between the Parliament and the Guardian Council loyal to the ruling theocracy.

Rafsanjani's campaign manager, Nowbakht, called for Iran's various factions to rally behind Rafsanjani.

"What happens in next Friday's vote should be a symbol of national solidarity for Iranians," he said.

National voter turnout during the first round was 63 percent, but in liberal-minded Tehran it was less than 50 percent. Bavand said some of the reform-minded voters, already frustrated by the weak performance of outgoing reformist President Mohammad Khatami, may not vote in the runoff, benefiting Ahmadinejad.

 

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