| Youths at a Tehran park on Sunday. (AFP)
Tehran, June 19 (Reuters): Iranian reformists urged their dejected supporters to rally behind pragmatic cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to prevent his surprise hardline challenger Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from winning a presidential run-off.
“We should use our full force to defend Rafsanjani. We should form an anti-fascist front,” said Hamid Reza Jalalipour, a leader of the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front.
Similarly, backers of Tehran ex-mayor Ahmadinejad urged conservatives to unite in support of the man who stunned Iran by almost overhauling elder statesman Rafsanjani in Friday’s first-round vote.
The hardline Siyasat-e-Ruz newspaper said conservatives could have won outright if they had settled on one candidate. “However it is not late now and there is just one step to victory ... Unity must be at the top of our agenda,” it said.
Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad, with about one fifth of the vote each, just pulled clear of their five rivals in a poll damned by Washington as a travesty of the democracy Iranians yearned for.
“I just don’t see the Iranian elections as being a serious attempt to move Iran closer to a democratic future,” secretary of state Condoleezza Rice told Fox News television in Jerusalem.
She criticised the legitimacy of the electoral process, in which unelected clerics barred most of the 1,000 presidential hopefuls, including all the women, from standing.
Those defects prompted some Iranian reformists, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi, to boycott the poll. “As long as they (the clerical establishment) decide for people and tell people whom to vote for by qualifying and disqualifying candidates, I will not vote,” she said.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed the 63 per cent turnout as a slap to “ignorant enemy” President George W. Bush.
Iranians now face a stark choice on their country’s future in the first run-off election since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
A senior Rafsanjani aide urged reformists, secularists and moderate conservatives to unite behind the former president to maintain a political balance against “militarist” tendencies.
“We all can hear the footsteps of fascism,” Mohammad Atrianfar said. “If we create a united front for a national coalition, we will win the Friday election.”
He echoed accusations from Moin’s camp that Ahmadinejad had used Basij religious militiamen to help get out the vote. “Using a paramilitary organisation to mobilise voters is a very dangerous move,” Atrianfar said.
The daily Sharq, which Atrianfar controls, said voting for Rafsanjani was the only way to stop religious hardliners from gaining a monopoly on Iran’s ruling institutions.
“We can call him arrogant and criticise his preference for development over democracy,” wrote columnist Mohammad Qouchani, but added: “Now we clearly see that Rafsanjani is the only choice left for preserving democracy in Iran.”