Iranians Go to the Polls
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.
Iran is holding a presidential election today. Voters are choosing among seven candidates to replace outgoing President Mohammed Khatami. He's the twice-elected reformist whose progressive agenda was stymied by Iran's powerful hard-line clerics. On the eve of the voting, President Bush criticized the electoral process in Iran, saying it's designed to keep power in the hands of a few. NPR's Ivan Watson reports from Tehran.
IVAN WATSON reporting:
Dozens of women, some dressed in black chadoras, others in short overcoats and head scarves, lined up to cast their ballots this morning at one of Tehran's more stunning polling stations: a mosque with a huge blue-tiled dome.
(Soundbite of people at polling station)
WATSON: The question of the day here seems to be, `To vote or not to vote?' In the men's section, a print shop worker named Mohammed Inanoo(ph) wanted a foreign journalist to report the truth, he said, that many Iranians were voting in what he called `free and fair elections.'
Mr. MOHAMMED INANOO: (Through Translator) It's because I love Iran. We love Iran and we like to choose someone who will do good for Iran.
WATSON: But outside a passerby who only gave his first name, Masoud(ph), declared he would not be voting.
MASOUD: (Through Translator) In the past five years this government has lied; lied about its economics, about its social and international relations. They haven't done anything to improve the conditions of Iranians and I don't believe in them and I'm not going to vote for them.
WATSON: By all accounts the seven candidates competing in today's election ran the most expensive and modern political campaigns since the Islamic revolution of 1979. At a campaign rally in a central Tehran park earlier this week, young men ignored a ban on public dancing and twirled and clapped to folk music.
(Soundbite of campaign rally)
Unidentified Men: (Unintelligible).
WATSON: Not far from this rally a half dozen long-haired university students sat at a picnic table playing guitar.
(Soundbite of guitar being playing)
WATSON: They all said they saw little point in voting for what 20-year-old guitarist Hameed Eslambli(ph) called `an Islamic dictatorship.'
Mr. HAMEED ESLAMBLI: It's a dictatorship government and even if you're not a Muslim, you have to follow and you have to obey.
WATSON: Front-runner and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was one of the architects of the Islamic revolution. A quarter century later, he led a much more secular movement of young fashionable campaign workers who distributed free Internet cards and pop music CDs like this one.
(Soundbite of music)
Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)
WATSON: One of his volunteers, a 19-year-old, who was still recovering from plastic surgery, said he believed Hashemi Rafsanjani would give the youth more social freedoms.
Unidentified Man: Hashemi is the future, man. Hashemi is that man that you want.
WATSON: Rafsanjani and other conservative candidates adopted pro-reform themes, like opening ties with the West and battling high unemployment. But some of the Iranian regime's most-outspoken critics say don't be fooled by the conservatives. Omed Medonyon(ph) spent 55 days in solitary confinement, during which he was periodically beaten for publishing an English language Web blog. Medonyon said he disagreed with those reformists who are boycotting the election and instead attended a rally in favor of the lone reformist candidate Mostafa Moin.
Mr. OMED MEDONYON: The real faith you can see in the prison. You can ask the prisoners and you can see that they don't believe in human rights. In many cases they're following a top-down relation with the people.
WATSON: With the reformist and conservative camps divided, a Western diplomat here says this may be the closest election since the Iranian revolution. Polls show Rafsanjani is in the lead, but also suggests he does not have enough support for an outright victory today, which could lead to an unprecedented second-round runoff between the top two finishers.
Ivan Watson, NPR News, Tehran.
MONTAGNE: Profiles of Iran's presidential candidates are at npr.org.