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Amid the carnival atmosphere in Tehran, the feeling is that change has already occurred, no matter who wins Friday's election.
[Editor's note: Today, GlobalPost begins rolling out extensive coverage — in words and pictures — of the 2009 Iranian presidential election. Read more about the "Michelle Obama" of Iran, and why this election is different from any other in the Islamic Republic's 30-year history.]
TEHRAN, Iran — Iranians imagined that this year’s presidential campaign would be hard fought, but no one quite expected what it has become: a spark for uncontrolled street revelry; a platform for hostile name-calling between ill-tempered candidates; and an opportunity to hold a referendum on the achievements of the 1979 revolution.
The mantle of "change" has been bestowed on an unlikely candidate: Mir-Hossein Mousavi is a graying throwback to the early days of the revolution, a 67-year-old former prime minister best remembered for administering the economy during the country’s 1980s war with Iraq.
But, last week’s televised debate between Mousavi and the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, shed light on just how high the stakes are for the Friday election. Ahmadinejad spent much of his time defending the achievements of his hardline foreign policy: He claimed that by following the guidelines of the Islamic Revolution, Iran had weakened Israel and forced America to change its policies.
Mousavi, drawing on the authority of his personal acquaintance with Ayatollah Khomeini, who returned from exile in France in 1979 to lead the revolution and found the Islamic state, countered that Ahmadinejad had misunderstood the precepts of the revolution. It was never about needlessly antagonizing the West or about focusing on distant problems in the Holy Land at the expense of those closer to home.
Mousavi is not a perfect candidate: he bears a 20-year absence from the public stage, and neither his electoral platform, which stresses competent management over major political reform, nor his personal charisma — he mumbles and rushes through his speeches — are particularly stirring. But despite his weaknesses, he has managed to attract an unprecedented outpouring of support among the young and the middle and upper classes of the country’s cities.
Indeed, a carnival atmosphere has descended on the normally staid capital city of Tehran. Mousavi’s supporters — especially those of Iran’s baby-boom generation born in the 1980s — swarm the streets by the thousands every night, blocking major intersections as they sing impromptu campaign songs. On Monday, they constructed a human chain that spanned the entirety of the tree-lined Vali Asr, Tehran’s 12-mile-long main thoroughfare.