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Just a week ago, Rowhani was seen as overshadowed by candidates with far deeper ties to the current power structure: Jalili and Qalibaf, who was boosted by a reputation as a steady hand for Iran’s sanctions-wracked economy.
Then a moderate rival of Rowhani bowed out of the presidential race to consolidate the pro-reform camp. That opened the way for high-profile endorsements including his political mentor, former President Akbar Heshmi Rafsanjani, who won admiration from opposition forces for denouncing the postelection crackdowns in 2009. This, too, may have led to Rafsanjani’s being blackballed from the ballot this year by Iran’s election overseers, which allowed just eight candidates among more than 680 hopefuls.
Iran has no credible political polling to serve as harder metrics for the street buzz around candidates, who need more than 50 percent of the vote to seal victory and avoid a runoff. Journalists face limits on reporting such as requiring permission to travel around the country. Iran does not allow outside election observers.
Yet it’s clear that fervor remains strong for Rowhani’s rivals as well.
Qalibaf is riding on his image as a capable fiscal manager who can deal with the deepening problems of Iran’s economy and sinking currency.
Jalili draws support from hard-line factions such as the Revolutionary Guard’s paramilitary corps, the Basij. His reputation is further enhanced by a battlefield injury that cost him the lower part of his right leg during Iran’s 1980-88 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, which at the time was backed by the United States.
"We should resist the West," said Tehran taxi driver Hasan Ghasemi, who supported Jalili.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has not publicly endorsed a successor for Ahmadinejad following their falling out over the president’s attempts to challenge Khamenei’s near-absolute powers.
Ahmadinejad leaves office weakened and outcast by his political battles with Khamenei — yet another sign of where real power rests in Iran. The election overseers also rejected Ahmadinejad’s protege Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei in apparent payback. The usually talkative Ahmadinejad gave only a brief statement to reporters as he voted and refused to discuss the election.
Khamenei remained mum on his own choice even as he cast his ballot. He added that his children don’t know whom he backs.
Instead, he blasted the U.S. for its repeated criticism of Iran’s clampdowns on the opposition and the rejection of Rafsanjani and other moderates from the ballot.
"Recently I have heard that a U.S. security official has said they do not accept this election," Khamenei was quoted by state TV after casting his vote. "OK, the hell with you."
By many measures, this election is far removed from the backdrop four years ago.
Iran’s security networks have consolidated near-blanket control, ranging from swift crackdowns on any public dissent to cyberpolice blocking opposition Internet websites and social media. Hackers calling themselves the Iranian Cyber Army disrupted at least a half dozen reform-oriented websites, including one run by well-known political cartoonist Nikahang Kosar.
Prominent reformist politician Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was jailed after the 2009 disputed election, voted from his cell in Tehran’s Evin Prison, the semiofficial ISNA news agency reported.
The economy, too, is under far more pressures than in 2009.
Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program have shrunk vital oil sales and are leaving the country isolated from international banking systems. New U.S. measures taking effect July 1 further target Iran’s currency, the rial, which has lost half its foreign exchange value in the past year, driving prices of food and consumer goods sharply higher.
Outside Iran, votes were casts by the country’s huge diaspora including Dubai, London and points across the United States.
"I hope we take a step toward democracy," said Behza Khajavi, a 29-year-old doctoral candidate in physics from Boca Raton, Florida, as he voted in Tampa for Rowhani.
In Paris, a 25-year-old Iranian student, Sohrab Labib, voted at his nation’s consulate while a small group of protesters gathered across the street.
"It’s our country. It’s our future," he said. "In any case, even a little change could influence our future."Next Page >
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