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Ahmadinejad Popularity Tested By Elections

From his fans at Reuters:

Ahmadinejad popularity tested in Iran vote

Fri Dec 15, 2006

By Alireza Ronaghi

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iranians voted on Friday for local councils and a powerful clerical body in elections that will give the first indication of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s popularity since he swept to office in 2005.

The votes for municipal councilors and members of the Assembly of Experts, in theory Iran’s most powerful institution, will show if the president’s reformist rivals are making any inroads even if these results have no direct impact on policy.

Polling stations are due to close at 7.00 p.m. (1530 GMT). Officials say results may not be released until late on Sunday.

Much may depend on the turnout of Iran’s 46.5 million eligible voters. Iran’s pro-reform movement, drubbed when many of their supporters stayed home in the 2003 councils race, has been trying to mobilize voters this time.

"Many people may not come to vote today but I have come and have voted to stop the conservatives from taking over the city council," Raihaneh Pajvak, 29, said in wealthy north Tehran.

Anecdotal evidence at several voting stations in the capital, the main battleground, suggested voting was reasonably brisk. State media said turnout was high but gave no figures.

"I am not amazed by the turnout, but it’s good. My feeling is this year’s race for the council elections is pretty hot," said a Tehran polling station official who declined to be named.

Chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said high turnout would be a popular riposte to Western countries pressuring Iran over its nuclear program, the official IRNA news agency said.

Only 49 percent of voters turned out for the councils race in 2003 and just 12 percent in Tehran, handing victory to Ahmadinejad’s backers, who went on to sweep parliament.

Ahmadinejad, who had been Tehran mayor, went on to win the presidency, a post that is outranked by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the Islamic Republic’s system of clerical rule.

CONSERVATIVE CAMP SPLIT

Any indication that Ahmadinejad’s popularity is waning is likely to be taken as a welcome sign in the West, which has been alarmed by his anti-Israel statements and fears Iran is seeking to build nuclear arms, a charge Tehran denies.

The conservative camp is split between supporters of Ahmadinejad and backers of Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.

Many in Tehran said they voted for the president’s allies. There are no reliable opinion polls to forecast results.

"Ahmadinejad is a gentleman. He has done a lot of good works for the people. I will vote for his supporters," said Javad Zerangi, 65, queuing to vote in working-class south Tehran.

Grumbling about inflation has risen but Ahmadinejad’s promise to share oil wealth more fairly still plays well with the crowds. Showing the common touch on which much of his appeal is based, Ahmadinejad waited in line for 30 minutes to vote.

Voters are choosing from around 233,000 candidates for more than 113,000 city and rural council posts.

They are also voting for the 86-member Assembly of Experts, which appointed, supervises and can unseat Khamenei, 67, the country’s highest authority.

Although it holds powers even parliament or the president cannot boast, the assembly is dominated by traditional conservative clerics who have never openly challenged Khamenei.

That race is dominated by two rivals: influential former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, widely seen as Ahmadinejad’s spiritual mentor.

Of course the elections will be as fair as those in Venezuela or Nicaragua.

This article was posted by Steve on Friday, December 15th, 2006. Comments are currently closed.

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