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Rafsanjani Landslide Seen as Iran Votes

Times Staff Writer

Bidding for a heavy turnout, Iranian authorities extended voting by two hours in Friday’s presidential elections, which parliamentary Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani was favored to win in a landslide.

The polls finally closed at 7 p.m., according to a report of the Iranian national news agency monitored here. The result is not expected to be released until Sunday.

Rafsanjani, a centrist, faced token opposition from a single candidate, former Agriculture Minister Abbas Sheibani. But the political powers behind the 55-year-old Rafsanjani, a close confederate of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, pulled out all stops to run up his percentage and boost the turnout among the 24 million eligible voters.

The voting age was lowered from 16 to 15, and Iranian television began its election day coverage with repeated broadcasts of a jingle to encourage voters to go to the polls: “I vote, you vote, we vote for freedom and independence, so that our children will live happy, healthy, free and proud, thanks to the revolution.”

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After what some news reports from Tehran called sluggish voting in the early morning, Interior Minister Ali Akbar Mohtashemi announced the extension of the polling hours. He said large turnouts in Tehran and provincial voting centers forced the decision to go to a 12-hour voting day. A later, unconfirmed report said some polls would stay open until midnight.

Prime Minister Hussein Moussavi--like Mohtashemi, considered a member of a radical circle opposed to Rafsanjani--also spoke enthusiastically of the turnout, declaring: “The participation is fantastic in some of the polling stations I’ve visited in Tehran . . . just as we expected.”

Also on the ballot was a package of constitutional amendments designed to vastly increase the power of the presidency, including a provision eliminating the post of prime minister.

On Thursday, in a statement distributed from its headquarters in neighboring Iraq, the Moujahedeen, the leading Iranian opposition group in exile, declared the election “illegitimate and invalid.” Moujahedeen leader Massoud Rajavi insisted that “this farce, like those during Khomeini’s lifetime, is being ignored and boycotted by the Iranian people.”

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During Friday’s voting, Mohtashemi said in a Tehran television interview that security agencies had foiled attempts by opposition groups, presumably meaning the Moujahedeen, to disrupt the voting. Security was reported tight in Iran for the past week.

Neither Rafsanjani nor Sheibani campaigned for the election, which was moved up by three weeks after the death in June of Khomeini, who led the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979. Conceding his dubious prospects, Sheibani asked his supporters not to spend money for campaign materials but to give it to charities instead.

Rafsanjani has made the rebuilding of the Iranian economy, devastated by an eight-year war with Iraq that ended last August, his top priority. He has given open signals that Iran will improve relations with Western countries and seek economic help abroad.


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