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Hardline Conservative Wins Iran Presidency in Landslide

According to Iranian officials, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad handily defeated initial front-runner and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani with nearly 62 percent of the vote.

“The figures show that Ahmadinejad is the winner,” Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani told reporters.

The 49-year-old mayor will become Iran’s first non-cleric president for 24 years when he takes office in August.

Officials projected the final turnout to be approximately 26 million voters, or 56 percent of the eligible population. The numbers were down from the 63 percent of Iran’s 46.7 million eligible voters who cast ballots in the first round on June 17.

“It’s over, we accept that we’ve lost,” a close aide to Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997, told Reuters.

The vote was the first runoff in the Islamic nation since the 1979 revolution toppled the dictatorial government of the shah and instituted a Shia Muslim theocracy. It followed last week’s vote where no candidate secured a clear majority of the vote, with Rafsanjani capturing 21 percent, compared with Ahmadinejad’s 19.5 percent. About 63 percent of Iran’s nearly 47 million eligible voters cast ballots in the first round.

Voting was heavy throughout the nation, with long lines prompting election officials to keep polls open four hours later than planned to accommodate the throngs.

Rhetoric between the two sides remained intense even as people voted. At the University of Tehran, Ayatollah Ahmed Jannati, one of the mayor’s most fervent supporters, rallied more conservative voters, saying, “Religious democracy can save the country.”

Jannati went on to say, “Every vote you cast is a bullet in the hearts” of the United States, the Associated Press quoted him as telling worshippers during Friday prayers.

Supporters waiting to vote for Ahmadinejad stressed his hard-line stances and anti-corruption pledges as reasons for their support.

“I will vote for Ahmadinejad because he wants to cut off the hands of those who are stealing the country’s national wealth. He wants to fight poverty, fraud and discrimination,” Rahmatollah Izadpanah told Reuters.

“This is the beginning of a new movement,” Ahmadinejad said after voting.

The Islamic nation’s struggling economy, where nearly 30 percent of adults are unemployed, helped fuel the candidacy of the 49-year-old mayor and former Republican Guard commander.

“The real nuclear bomb that Iran has is its unemployed young people,” the AP quoted Ali Pourassad, a supporter of Ahmadinejad, as saying. “If nothing is done to create jobs for our young people we will have an explosion on the streets.”

Analysts have worried that his election could spell the end of efforts by outgoing President Khatami to implement some moderate reforms and a cooling of at-times tense relations with the United States and other Western nations.

In Washington, U.S. State Department officials dismissed the vote as an aberration in a region moving towards more open and democratic societies.

“With the conclusion of the elections in Iran, we have seen nothing that sways us from our view that Iran is out of step with the rest of the region in the currents of freedom and liberty that have been so apparent in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon,” State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore said.

The results were a major blow to reformers and business leaders who had flocked to Rafsanjani, the 70-year-old former president, hoping he would support the growing freedoms implemented in recent years.

Daryoush Hamadi, a 30-year-old Rafsanjani supporter, said, “The country is doomed if hardliners take the presidency.”

Rafsanjani, once considered a more conservative figure when leading Iran in the past, had adopted the tenor and campaign platform of the reformists, hoping to attract the millions of younger Iranians who backed outgoing President Khatami.

“I intend to play a historic political role … to stop the domination of extremism,” Rafsanjani said after voting.

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