Amid accusations of vote rigging, two candidates emerged from the muck of Iranian elections last week; Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, and former Iranian President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The winner will be decided in a run-off to be held on Friday. The outcome of the election will affect Iran's policies regarding nuclear proliferation, Israel, and the West.
The surprising results of Iran's elections June 17th showed that Ahmadinejad, the hard-line mayor of Tehran, had sprung to second place after pre-election polls showed him near the bottom of the eight-candidate pack. As a former Revolutionary Guard commander, Ahmadinejad has the backing of the military element. There are concerns that soldiers may be used to "encourage" voters to vote a certain way in the run-off this coming Friday. Reformers fear that if Ahmadinejad takes office, they would lose the social freedoms offered under outgoing President Khatami. There is also concern that Ahmadinejad worked as a professional assassin earlier in life.
The third place finisher, Mehdi Karroubi, blamed the results of June 17th's election on vote tampering. Karroubi led the pack in 11 provinces, and in the end only lost 2nd place to Ahmadinejad by a fraction of a percentage point. Karroubi argued that people were paid for their votes in some cities, and that conspirators stuffed ballot boxes and allowed some voters to cast several ballots. Two newspapers planned to publish Karroubi's charges, which implicated the Islamic conservatives and the military. Security agencies, however, shut down the newspapers and prevented them from posting Karroubi's four-page letter.
Former President Rafsanjani ended only two points ahead of dark horse Ahmadinejad, but appears to have sufficient backing to win on June 24. Rafsanjani served as President of Iran from 1989-1997 and for many in Iran, their choice in Friday's run-off is between the devil they know and the devil they don't know.
A supporter of the Revolution, Rafsanjani was once considered an ultraconservative. Now, however, he has taken a more moderate, pragmatic position in Iranian politics and has the, albeit reluctant, backing of the reformists. He has also come out on the side of Karroubi over the voting irregularities. He has recommended that there be a real investigation into the charges that Karroubi made. He has promised to work toward unity in the Iranian government and to promote freedom even while upholding the ideals of the revolution.
"The vote in the first round shows the Iranian people do not share a single political belief and that the country cannot be ruled over by a single viewpoint," said Rafsanjani. "We need a national coalition to create a government that includes all people who believe in Islam, the revolution, the regime, freedom and independence," he added.
At the same time, Rafsanjani and has been an adamant enemy of Israel. He has considered nuclear power for Iran as a possible means of wiping Israel off the map. As recently as 2001 he said that one nuclear bomb in Iran's hands would be enough to handle the issue of Israel's nuclear arsenal.
The people of Iran have an important decision to make this Friday, one that will color Iranian politics, and one that will decide how Iran deals with the rest of the world for years to come.