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The votes of the oppressed may push a hardliner into the presidency, writes Anthony Loyd
June 25, 2005
IF not darkness and light, then the choice facing Iran's liberal voters overnight was at least between dusk and night, as the nation went to the polls to elect a new president.
Yet whatever the gripes of critics about the democratic value of the vote, by today the country will know which of two choices its millions of voters have made.
In one corner stands Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, 70, the former president, who espouses privatisation, cautious liberal reforms, negotiations over the nuclear program and overtures to the US.
In the other corner is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, 49, the Mayor of Tehran and the soldier-son of a blacksmith, who advocates state-control of the economy with subsidies and handouts, a reverse of cultural reforms, the continuation of uranium enrichment and a stand-off with the US.
It was the powerful showing of Mr Ahmadinejad, who is a hardline conservative, in the first round last week that dominated the run-up to last night's polls and sent shivers down the spine of his adversaries.
His campaign video is a masterful work of polemical imagery that has shot straight to the heart of the mostazafan -- the oppressed.
They are Iran's workers, the poor and disaffected, those sick of corruption and the class divide, and he has captured their imaginations and votes.
The camera lingers on the residence of the previous mayor of Tehran, a tenure taken by Mr Ahmadinejad in 2003. Chandeliers drip from the high ceilings above marble floors, gilt bannisters lead the viewer through a spacious opulence of power, never experienced by Iran's shopkeepers and labourers, on towards the swimming pool, into the gym, the sauna and then the timbre suddenly changes.
A poignant violin is heard as we see the Ahmadinejad mayoral residence: a modest suburban-style home, sparse of furniture, his telephone lying on the carpet upon which he sits to do business. "Vote for me," says the subtext of the commercial. "I'll not spend your money on trappings you will never enjoy. I'm just like you. Trust me."
"Ahmadinejad has suffered in life," says Orash Farahani, a 29-year-old worker in a Tehrani electrical goods store, who will be giving the city's Mayor his vote. "He has feeling for those who are hungry and poor.
"He'll bring social justice to this country. The revolution was fought for the mostazafan, but now we are forgotten again as the rich take over."
Confidence in the predicted easy win for the favourite, Mr Rafsanjani, was shattered last week during the initial round of voting, when Mr Ahmadinejad, who is the bete noire of the international community, Iran's liberals and its business sector, rose from nowhere to a robust second place, just 1.5 per cent behind his rival.
His vote reflects not so much support for his religious conservatism or his foreign policy, but for his social status and honesty.
Iran's burgeoning working class sees little reward from Iran's oil assets, which are currently selling at $US59 a barrel.
The money disappears into a sump of corruption and mismanagement, opening a huge social schism between the small urban elite and the majority poor.
"The imbalance between upper and lower classes was one of the issues the revolution was supposed to resolve. Twenty-six years later it is still there," says the International Crisis Group's representative in Tehran, Karim Sadjadpour.
More than a third of voters did not cast a ballot in the first round of the election and it is unclear whether they will be moved to back Mr Rafsanjani in the second round.
Most are believed to be reform-minded and disillusioned by the failure of outgoing President Mohammed Khatami to bring them the freedom they desire.
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