Iran's Ahmadinejad Fighting for His Political Future

"Ahmadinejad is the first president we've had who's actually traveled around the country to see the provinces… he's never wasted any opportunities that he's had and he's never wasted the country's money," said Amir, 30, who works in confectionary.

"I'm voting for Ahmadinejad because the rest of my family is," said Elham, 22, a student.


The tight race has sent a rush of enthusiastic demonstrators onto the streets of Iran. Supporters have rallied by the tens of thousands this week, some dancing and chanting in the streets through the early morning, leaving behind a paper carpet of campaign posters.

Wednesday was the last official day of electioneering, when campaign activities must end at 12:30 a.m. By day, thousands of Ahmadinejad supporters gathered for a rally in Tehran. Later, hordes of Mousavi supporters walked up Vali Asr street, the city's main thoroughfare, alongside a van that blasted prayers and campaign slogans like "Ahmadi-bye-bye."

On Monday, while tens of thousands of Ahmadinejad supporters filled a packed stadium, Mousavi's formed a human chain that reportedly stretched seven miles from northern to southern Tehran.

First Televised Debates Liven up Elections

One turning point in the campaign was a series of live, televised debates pairing each of the four contenders. One week ago Ahmadinejad and Mousavi went one-on-one, sparring on policy and personal issues. Mousavi called Ahmadinejad an "extremist," criticizing him for moves like questioning the Holocaust; Ahmadinejad accused Mousavi of links to corruption and attacked his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, accusing her of flawed academic credentials. Rahnavard, a university head who has campaigned by Mousavi's side, has pitched her husband as the candidate for women's rights and drawn significant female support to his cause.

The debates galvanized voters on both sides, and earned Ahmadinejad criticism for his personal attacks and for accusing long-time leaders like former president Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani of corruption and taking the country down the wrong direction. Moreover, they gave voters a rare chance to hear an airing of grievances, from the economy to state policy, that have become major issues on the campaign trail.

"To see this clash, to see them hash things out and debate in such an aggressive manor was completely unprecedented in the Iran political system," said Trita Parsi of the National Iranian-American Council.

The heat and excitement of the election has overturned voter apathy that has traditionally kept young voters away from the polls; analysts are predicting a turnout as high as 80 percent, eclipsing the 60 percent turnout in the 2005 race that first elected Ahmadinejad. But some cynicism remains ahead of Friday's vote. There are widespread concerns about vote-rigging, heightened by the emergence of a fatwa (or religious decree) allowing cheating by changing votes to Ahmadinejad, the candidate perceived as the most faithful to Islam.

If serious allegations of vote tampering were to surface it would sound a sour note through a polarized and intense political atmosphere. The sheer energy of the campaigns have led to concerns that any triggered tensions could lead to chaos.

"Iran is very much in a festive mood, like a carnival right now," said Hadian. "I hope that will remain the case."

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