Reform Candidate Disputes Iran Election Results

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One of the reform candidates in the Iranian election is saying that the vote was rigged. Liane Hansen speaks with Ivan Watson in Tehran.

LIANE HANSEN, host:

In Iran, the conservative mayor of Tehran and a former president of the country emerged as the top two finishers in Friday's presidential elections. They now face an unprecedented second-round runoff that's expected to take place this coming Friday. NPR's Ivan Watson joins us from Tehran.

Ivan, these two finishers are very different politicians. What kind of choices do they present, then, for the Iranian voters?

IVAN WATSON reporting:

Well, the first is Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. He was predicted to be the front-runner. He's a 70-year-old cleric, he's a former president of Iran and he's one of the architects of the Islamic revolution. He ran, however, a very secular-looking, modern-looking campaign that targeted Iran's huge youth vote, and he stressed making Iran more secure and comfortable for foreign companies, to battle high unemployment here by attracting foreign investment. And he had flashy TV ads and campaign posters, and he employed young, fashionable Iranians and promised them less social restrictions in the future.

His challenger now will be Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He's in his 40s. He's a very conservative mayor of Tehran. He's the surprise second-place finisher here, a former officer in the Revolutionary Guard, and he won the support of the state-sanctioned basiji vigilante organization, of which he is a former member, who helped mobilize the vote behind him. He focused on helping the poor and the deprived, he said. He made jabs against candidates like Rafsanjani, who spent millions on their campaigns, and he has suggested that Iranian politicians should stop these flashy campaigns and focus more on what is appropriate to the Islamic revolution and Iranian culture.

HANSEN: Ivan, what can you tell us about the candidates' positions on ties with the United States?

WATSON: Well, Rafsanjani has gone on record saying he would like to open a new chapter of detente with the US, and suggested the US take the first step by releasing funds that were seized after the 1979 Islamic revolution. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, has said that re-establishing ties with the US would not help solve Iran's problems. He even went so far as to describe the United Nations as `one-sided' and `stacked against the Islamic world.' So very different approaches to the US.

HANSEN: Now there've been some complaints, apparently, lodged about the vote count. Can you tell us about those complaints?

WATSON: Two of the candidates--there were seven in all--have lodged complaints. One is the third-place finisher. He was just about 600,000 votes behind the second-place finisher, the mayor, which shows how close this election was. And this man, Mehdi Karrubi--he's a cleric--he has called for an independent investigation. He has suggested that the military may have intervened and altered the course of the vote. Another reformist candidate also issued a statement warning of the possible efforts to `militarize the country,' is the way he put it.

HANSEN: NPR's Ivan Watson in Tehran. Ivan, thank you very much.

WATSON: You're welcome, Liane.

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