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Vote-rigging scandal mars Iranian poll

The Guardian
Geneive Abdo in Tehran
Friday February 25, 2000

Vote-rigging in 100 Tehran polling stations is suspected to have occurred in last week's parliamentary election to ensure a seat for former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, election officials from the interior ministry confirmed yesterday.

Final results were scheduled to be released yesterday at 12pm local time but were delayed because of fears that votes had been faked in Mr Rafsanjani's favour, officials said. Preliminary results had shown the former president squeaking by in 29th place out of 30 seats from Tehran. But if vote-rigging indeed occurred, Mr Rafsanjani could be forced into a run-off election in April, a race he would probably lose.

At one polling station at the Teleqani mosque, sources said, 1,500 out of 1,800 votes were tallied for Mr Rafsanjani. In fact he received only 150 votes.

"Some ballot boxes are being recounted. Protests have been made against alleged vote-rigging, especially in the south of Tehran," one interior ministry official said. "The interior ministry is following up the case. God willing, final results will be released by tomorrow [Friday] night."

Ballots at another 100 polling stations out of a total of 3,111 have yet to be counted.

The parliamentary polls held on February 18 were celebrated as Iran's fairest to date. Yesterday's news will cast a pall on a contest that the outside world heralded as a great exercise in democracy.

Nearly all sides in Iran's political battle have an interest in Mr Rafsanjani winning a seat. Reformers aligned with the moderate President Mohammad Khatami admitted privately that they wished he had stayed out of the contest. But once he entered the race, he became a necessary evil, they said.

His defeat would cause extensive hostility from his conservative backers whom the reformers need to accommodate if they plan to push their policies through the new parliament. Although reformers won a solid victory, they still need the support of a variety of more conservative factions to pass legislation for social and political change.

Thus, in the convoluted world of Iranian politics, both conservatives and reformers have a keen interest in Mr Rafsanjani winning a spot in the 290-seat parliament.

In the weeks running up to the election, Mr Rafsanjani suffered merciless attacks from reformers who accused him of numerous crimes, including turning a blind eye to rogue intelligence agents who killed intellectuals while he was president. Seminars were scheduled solely for the purpose of condemning his legacy in post-revolutionary Iran.

His daughter, Faezeh, who also ran in the election, suffered a more serious blow for her public defence of her father. Preliminary results showed her placing in the low 50s. Four years ago, she came second.

Election officials have vowed to get to the bottom of the allegations. "The officials in the interior ministry in coordination with Mr Khatami's policies will not allow even one vote to be manipulated," said Mohammad Qadimi-Zaker, the ministry's director general of elections.