Election: Iran's decision to oust Ahmadinejad – or not
Voters flocked to the polls to weigh in on the country's faltering economy and aggressive foreign policy.
Iranians poured into polling stations in a key presidential election on Friday, transforming the electricity of a tumultuous campaign and street demonstrations into a near-record turnout.Skip to next paragraph
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This election, in which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's main opponent surged in the final days, is being seen as a referendum on how the government is handling its faltering economy and aggressive foreign policy. Iran's decision to oust Mr. Ahmadinejad – or not – will shape the Islamic Republic's response to US President Obama's recent overtures and key issues such as Iran's nuclear program.
"This is very important for us, because we want to choose our own candidate – so we can choose our own destiny," said Babak, an electrician in south Tehran, as he made his way to his local mosque to vote. "This is the first time that the campaign was marvelous. It was infinity!"
Top challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi, he said, "will win 100 percent."
But just to be sure, many Mousavi supporters carried their own pens to the polls, after rumors circulated by text message that operatives of hard-line Ahmadinejad had imported 2 million pens with disappearing ink – so that votes for his opponents would be invalid.
A flicker of a counterrumor held that it was in fact the opposition camp – whose champion, Mr. Mousavi, has drawn the most support on the streets, and whose green-clad supporters predict victory over the incumbent – that had sneaked in such pens.
But those and many other rumors of vote-rigging did not deter the majority of Iran's 46.2 million eligible voters from lining up from early morning at some 45,000 polling stations, causing the polls' closing times to be extended twice. Officials said they expected "unprecedented" turnout could top 70 percent, close to the 80 percent achieved by reformist Mohamad Khatami in his landslide 1997 victory.
Opponents of Ahmadinejad have long argued that high turnout would put the embattled president at a disadvantage. But the regime has also sought since the 1979 Islamic revolution to demonstrate its legitimacy with high turnout.
Washington was keeping a close eye on the result.
"We think there's the possibility of change," Mr. Obama told reporters at the White House on Friday, acknowledging that it was up to Iranians to choose a leader. "Whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways."
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Excitement was palpable, in one polling booth after another. State television showed couples dressed in marriage finest, voting on their way to their wedding. "This election is as important as our wedlock; that's why we are doing both on the same day," said one bride.
Voting alongside his wife in an Ahmadinejad stronghold of south Tehran, Mousavi stained his finger purple, then used it to make his point by noting that some of his camp's election monitors had not been given access to all the polling stations. He complained that Iran's text-messaging service – by one count carrying 90 million messages a day, many of them pro-Mousavi notes to mobilize people – had been cut off early Friday morning.
"I thank all the people for their green presence which created a miracle," Mousavi said after voting. Iran's unity was an "achievement" of the Islamic revolution, he said, calling on officials to allow his representatives access "as soon as possible."