TOPICS > Politics

Iran Votes

June 16, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


LINDSEY HILSUM: This is the man who says he can solve Iran’s problems: Hashemi Rafsanjani, a past president and, he hopes, the future one, too. He’s addressing a crowd of potential voters in north Tehran. This is an audience of university lecturers and other educated people. He knows they want to hear that he’s going to open up Iran, to stop restricting what they can read or say.

HASHEMI RAFSANJANI (Translated): Every second of the day the people, especially the youth, have all the information in the world before their eyes. Whatever they want to know they can find out instantly. You can no longer censor or hide anything. Where the people are aware, intimidation doesn’t work. You can no longer lock people up.

LINDSEY HILSUM: But America’s convinced that Iran retains a big secret: Plans to build a nuclear weapon. So the foreign media want to know how would Rafsanjani solve that.

HASHEMI RAFSANJANI (Translated): Our policy right now is to concentrate on convincing the Western countries and even America that our intentions are peaceful.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Last night, young people were out in wealthy north Tehran were out campaigning for Hashemi Rafsanjani. It’s a paradox in this election that the oldest candidate — the one most deeply embedded in the clerical power elite — has convinced many Iranians that he has the clout to force the old guard to liberalize. Revolutionary icons are still on display, but all the candidates know that the young have new, un-Islamic heroes.

This man wants to be a hero, too. On his campaign DVD, Mohammad Qalibaf is a pilot guiding Iran to greater heights. His marketing team has produced Qalibaf goody bags, with Qalibaf lapel pins, Qalibaf CDs, Qalibaf perfume. Qalibaf is an Islamic conservative but he’s packaged like a film star.

SPOKESMAN: He’s trying to portray himself as kind of a Tom Cruise, “Top Gun” type of savior. He’s presenting a very hopeful and colorful campaign, instead of invoking imagery of martyrdom and Islamic fundamentalism, what you would see twenty years ago. He’s talking about the future, he’s talking about what he can do for the future, colorful ad campaigns. So I think it’s presenting an image of a new Islamic republic light.

LINDSEY HILSUM: It’s certainly working in his hometown, Iran’s second city, Mashhad, where thousands turned out to his final rally. We followed the reformist candidate, Mostafa Moin, meeting people in small towns near Mashhad. He really does preach change: Taking power from unelected clerics, freeing political prisoners, liberating women. At Mashhad, he attracted a sizable crowd. He’s scarcely charismatic, but his ideas are especially popular with students, even in this conservative part of the country.

Why do you support Mr. Moin?

KARIM SADJADPOUR: Because we love freedom and I think that all of the students in Iran and young people, young students in Iran, we select Mr. Moin him because he has new ideas about freedom for people.

LINDSEY HILSUM: Not everyone agrees. We filmed the crowd for a bit but were then arrested by plain-clothed religious police.

The shrine at Mashhad, the place of martyrdom, a pilgrimage site for Shia Muslims. Whoever wins the election, this is still the Islamic republic, where the supreme leader and councils of unelected ayatollahs hold parallel and greater power than the elected president and legislature.

EBRAHIM YAZDI: They all expecting from the president to give the service, but the real power is somewhere else. We have two security systems now. We have two foreign ministers now. So how can you manage this system?

MARGARET WARNER: Many observers predict no one will get 50 percent of tomorrow’s vote and a runoff will be necessary.