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Iran Prepares For Presidential Runoff

Hashemi-Rafsanjani backers ahead of the 17 June vote 19 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iranian politicians and voters have begun to look ahead to a historic presidential runoff next week that will offer voters a choice between a pragmatic former president and the hard-line mayor of Tehran, whose second-place finish was unforeseen by pre-election pollsters, Radio Farda and other media reported.

The vote has already been challenged by two pro-reform candidates who allege that the process was rigged by conservatives and hard-liners.

Preliminary figures offered by election officials and cited by the official IRNA news agency showed Expediency Council Chairman and former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani headed for a 24 June runoff against Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad, the first runoff presidential ballot since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Surprise Result

Hashemi-Rafsanjani had been widely expected to make it through to a second round, but Ahmadinejad was regarded as an outsider going into the ballot.

So it came as a surprise to many when Ahmadinejad appeared at a news conference hours before the preliminary figures were announced on 18 June to urge his supporters to turn out for that second-round vote.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani, the president of Iran from 1989 until 1997, is seen as a veteran politician with lots of influence on Iran's political scene.

Ahmadinejad is a former member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps who has cracked down on the cultural scene in the capital since becoming mayor in 2003.

Reformers Protest Outcome

Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi, a moderate cleric who reportedly placed third in the voting, has alleged fraud and demanded that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launch a probe into the alleged irregularities. A former parliamentary speaker and backer of reforms who has also worked effectively with conservatives, Mahdavi-Karrubi was joined in protest by another reformer, Mustafa Moin, a former education minister who placed fifth in the preliminary results despite pre-election polls showing him a strong second.

Moin has accused military elements of allying with political forces to defraud voters and ensure an unspecified candidate a victory. (For more on both Mahdavi-Karrubi's and Moin's objections, click here.)

The result represents a blow for backers of political reform in the country, many of whom had pinned their hopes on Moin, who placed fifth according to the preliminary figures.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani's biggest challenges were expected to come from Moin and from conservative candidate and former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

Out Of The Running

More than 1,000 hopefuls applied to the country's Guardians Council to compete in the race to succeed incumbent President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami, who is barred from a third term under the constitution. But the Guardians Council initially disallowed Moin and approved just six candidates before reversing itself under pressure and widening the field to eight. Hard-liner Mohsen Rezai quit the race on 15 June.

The former hard-line head of Iran's State Broadcasting, Ali Larijani, and Iran's reformist Vice President Mohsen Mehralizadeh fared worst among the seven candidates, according to the Election Headquarters' initial figures. (For vote figures as reported by IRNA on 18 June, click here.)

Critics in Washington have decried Iran's political process as run by conservative elements who vet and exclude moderates from meaningful posts.

[For background and an archive of our coverage of Iran's ninth-ever presidential election, see RFE/RL's dedicated Iran Votes 2005 webpage.]