Iran gears up for tight prez race

Friday’s poll has emerged as a close race between front-runners Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardline incumbent, and moderate former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi, seeking a comeback after two decades in the political wilderness.

The campaign has highlighted deep differences in the Islamic republic after four years under Ahmadinejad, whose hardline rhetoric on the nuclear standoff and against Israel has isolated Iran from the West, while his expansionist economic policies have also come under fire at home.

Analysts are still hesitant to pick a winner, suggesting the vote may be a repeat of 2005 when a relatively unknown Ahmadinejad scored a stunning upset in a second-round run-off against heavyweight cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The campaign has witnessed massive street demonstrations and unprecedented public animosity among the candidates who have been hurling insults and allegations of lying and corruption at each other on prime time television.

At a final campaign rally on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad, who has frequently described the Holocaust as a myth, accused his rivals of using “tactics like Hitler” to whip up public opinion against him, the Fars news agency said.

Campaign-cum-parties

On the streets, Iranians used the occasion to turn political rallies into night-time parties in a country that has little to offer in terms of nightlife.

Reformist former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi is also in the fray.

The campaign has highlighted the glaring divide in Iran with towns and villages passionately backing Ahmadinejad, while young men and women in big cities throwing their weight behind Mousavi, the former premier.

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