- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 19, 2005

TEHRAN — The front-runner in Iran’s presidential runoff sought to rally moderates yesterday by warning that his hard-line opponent would run a totalitarian regime.

A losing candidate, meanwhile, accused the hard-line Revolutionary Guard and its vigilante supporters of fixing votes during the first round of balloting, reflecting widespread fears that the second round will be rigged.

Hashemi Rafsanjani — president from 1989 to 1997 — finished first in Friday’s balloting with only 21 percent of the vote. That was barely half of the 40 percent that most political analysts had predicted he would get.

But an even bigger surprise was the emergence of Tehran’s hard-line mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — a former Revolutionary Guard commander — as the voters’ second choice. He received more than 19 percent.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, 49, an unabashedly hard-liner, is resurrecting the fervor of the 1979 Islamic Revolution during the campaign, by saying Iran “did not have a revolution in order to have democracy.”

“Under no circumstances was Ahmadinejad regarded as a close rival to Rafsanjani. The result has been a shock and has generated doubts in people’s minds who think that the election may have been rigged,” said analyst Davoud Hermidas Bavand. “It seems the process was manipulated.”

Former parliament Speaker Mahdi Karroubi, who finished behind Mr. Ahmadinejad by less than two-tenths of a percentage point, has written to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, demanding that he guarantee that the Revolutionary Guard will not manipulate the runoff, which is set for Friday.

The letter also asked for an investigation into charges that the Revolutionary Guard and vigilante groups pressured voters in four provinces. Ayatollah Khamenei heads the Islamic theocracy and can overrule the president or parliament.

Mr. Karroubi’s campaign manager, Ibrahim Amini, accused the armed forces of “meddling in the political affairs and in some of the provinces — like Esfahan, Yazd, Qom, Khorazon Razavi and Tehran — where they changed the votes.”

Mr. Karroubi has not received a reply, Mr. Amini said.

Mr. Rafsanjani, 70, once was considered a hard-liner, but since has moderated his stand and now is referred to as a pragmatist and savvy politician. He remains a powerful political figure as chairman of the Expediency Council, which arbitrates between the parliament and the Guardian Council loyal to the ruling theocracy.

Mr. Rafsanjani’s campaign manager, Mohammed Baghir Nowbakht, also expressed concern about vote manipulation by the Revolutionary Guard.

He said Friday’s runoff is crucial because Mr. Ahmadinejad would not tolerate differences of opinions if elected and would run a “totalitarian” regime.

“They would never let other groups participate in the government,” he said, calling for Iran’s various factions to rally behind Mr. Rafsanjani.

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