- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2001

Iranian voters are poised to give President Mohammed Khatami an overwhelming victory but an uncertain mandate as they head to the polls tomorrow, a new survey suggests.

A poll of 500 likely Iranian voters, conducted this week by D.C.-based pollster Zogby International, found that the reformist president has an enormous lead over a field of nine mostly hard-line conservative challengers with 75 percent of the vote.

That´s even higher than the 70 percent the centrist cleric achieved in 1997, but the Zogby poll found substantial apathy and unhappiness with Mr. Khatami´s record despite the high poll numbers.

Just 42 percent of those polled gave Mr. Khatami a positive job rating, compared with 56 percent who disapproved of his performance.

Conducted for the Abu Dhabi Television network, the Zogby survey has a statistical margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

Asked if they thought the country was on the "right track" a measure typically used in U.S. political polls to gauge broad sentiment about an incumbent´s performance — just 36 percent of the voters said Iran was moving in the right direction, a dead heat with the 35 percent who felt the country was on the wrong track.

"If this were an American election, those numbers would suggest the incumbent was in very serious trouble," said Jim Zogby, the pollster who helped design the survey.

Since his election four years ago, Mr. Khatami, 57, has fought a continual battle with conservative Islamic clerics over his efforts to institute more democratic freedoms and economic and social reforms.

Despite strong popular support and an overwhelming victory in last year´s parliamentary elections, pro-reform politicians have been frustrated by the conservatives´ control of many of the key levers of power in Iran, in particular the judiciary and the Supreme Council under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The government recently closed some 40 pro-reform newspapers, and allies of the president have been jailed and even murdered by hard-line opponents.

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