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Country awaits results in election that has become a referendum on Iran's polarizing president.
“Ahmadinejad has lied to us for four years,” said one voter in Narmak, Ahmadinejad’s neighborhood, who was upset about the economy. “It is time for someone who tells the truth.”
Many voters cited hopes that Mousavi would reverse the Ahmadinejad government’s belligerency towards the West and its crackdowns on social activists. Indeed, Mousavi spoke about increasing academic freedoms, eliminating harassment by morals police and improving Iran’s image in the world to counter the current president’s “dictatorial” policies. But, most voters acknowledged that any sudden change in policies might soon arouse conflict with entrenched, hard-line elements in the interior and intelligence ministries, as well as with the office of the Supreme Leader.
Mousavi seems content to settle for being a voice, rather than the decisive factor, in many of the country’s most contentious issues. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki underscored the point on Friday.
“The principles of Iranian foreign policy are based on certain cornerstones and those are based on the revolution and the teachings of the Imam Khomeini,” said Mottaki at a polling station in northern Tehran. “That will all remain unchanged.”
The Mousavi campaign did bear one symbol of radical change — in the form of the candidate’s own wife, Zahra Rahnavard. Rahnavard, a popular and charismatic scholar and artist, took to the campaign trail with gusto. Through her impassioned speeches, she quickly became a symbol for increased rights and political clout for women.
On the night of Mousavi’s nationally televised debate with Ahmadinejad, the current president tried his best to make Rahnavard a symbol of something else: namely, corruption. In what came to be one of the campaign’s most scandalous moments, Ahmadinejad held up to the television camera an intelligence file with Rahnavard’s photo attached to it before accusing his challenger’s wife of academic violations in pursuit of her degrees.
It was one of a series of accusations that the incumbent made against the class of powerful elites that has run the country since the 1979 revolution, including former president Hashimi Rafsanjani.
Ahmadinejad’s rhetorical and sartorial opposition to the accumulated privileges of the Islamic Republic’s oligarchy has proven to be his greatest selling point with the lower-class voters who have proven to be his electoral base.
“He’s close to the people,” said Shahnaz Ilkhani, who is from Narmak. “And he does things for the provinces that the rich people here in Tehran don’t see and don’t care about.”
The fact that the rancorous campaign will produce only one winner means, of course, that a large number of voters will come away disappointed. But, government officials made sure to interpret the country’s evident interest in the election process and the record turnout as a sign of support for the establishment.
After voting at a polling station close to his home in southern Tehran, the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei praised the voters and even the demonstrators. “I am hearing about a vast participation of people, and I hear there are even gatherings at night,” he said. “This shows people’s awareness.”
Though certainly motivated to express their minds at the ballot box, some voters were also plagued by fear of electoral fraud. More than a few indulged in conspiracy theorizing. “I brought my own pen,” said one voter in northern Tehran. “The ones they give out here use disappearing ink.”
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