Both Ahmadinejad and Rival Mousavi Claim Victory In Iran's Presidential Elections

Ahmadinejad's main competitor ran on a slogan of "change" and "hope."

ByABC News
June 12, 2009, 7:49 AM

TEHRAN, Iran -- June 12, 2009— -- Hours after polls closed in a hard fought election in Iran, both President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and moderate rival Mir Hossein Mousavi claimed victory.

"I am the definite winner of this presidential election," Mousavi said at a news conference in Tehran. Mousavi's supporters say the former prime minister was taking the "upper hand" and was expected to win two-thirds of the vote.

Mousavi's election would be a huge upset victory. Just weeks ago, Admadinejad was expected to cruise to reelection.

While Mousavi declared victory, Iran's state-run media declared Ahmadinejad the winner. According to Iran's state-run TV, Ahmadinejad had garnered 68.8 percent and Mousavi 28.8 percent of the 10 million votes counted thus far.

Mousavi and other candidates have alleged voting fraud and while there is no concrete data backing Mousavi's claims of a victory, the candidate and his aides made it clear that if official numbers do not show him to be victorious, they will fight them.

Official numbers are expected to be released on Saturday.

Iranians flocked to the polls to vote for their next president in an election of unprecedented interest.

Many locations extended voting hours to accommodate the throngs of people. Iran's news agency reported that more than 70 percent of Iranians who are eligible to vote participated in Friday's election.

Long lines wrapped around nearly every polling center ABC News visited, revealing a deep interest in this election, which has pitted current Ahmadinejad against popular reformist candidate Mousavi.

The month leading up to Iran's 10th presidential election was filled with a rare show of democratic energy -- heated public debates, mass demonstrations and rowdy rallies in streets around the country.

President Obama said today that he is "excited" about the "robust debate" taking place in Iran, and that it shows change is possible.

"Ultimately the election is for the Iranians to decide, but just as has been true in Lebanon, what can be true in Iran as well is that you're seeing people looking at new possibilities, and 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," Obama said.

In his speech to the Muslim world last week, the U.S. president said he wants to open dialog with Iran and move forward away from decades of animosity "on the basis of mutual respect." But he also chided the country's leadership for its nuclear weapons ambitions.

"American policy, with respect to Iran and its nuclear program, is not dependent on which administration is governing Iran," U.N. Ambassador Susan said today. "Our view is that ... the Islamic Republic of Iran ought to not pursue its nuclear program, its nuclear-weapons program, and that will not change, depending on the outcome of the election."

Rice said the United States was not endorsing any specific candidate.

"I think we were certainly heartened by the large turnout in Lebanon and what appears to be a large turnout in Iran," she said.

The draw of the election -- which the world is watching closely -- is so powerful that even some expatriates have returned to the country to cast their ballots.

Ibrahim, an Iranian-American who declined to give his full name, flew from California to Tehran to vote for a change in foreign policy.

"We would like to have common goals between United States and European countries," he told ABC News.

For Iran's young people, it's about a wide variety of issues, everything from high inflation and rising unemployment to the social and religious climate to better relations with the West. The involvement of Iran's young -- nearly one-third of the voters are estimated to be 30 years old or younger -- means that stakes are high for the presidential candidates. In the past, much of Iran's young population has boycotted past elections, but for the first time, many young Iranians believe they can make a difference.

One example of their involvement: When the text messaging network went down on Wednesday, many young voters were dismayed they couldn't get their message across to their friends. The system remained down today. Even the popular social networking site Facebook was shut down temporarily, causing angst among a few.

"In the past, they used to say we block sites that have immoral information. Later, this included politics and Web sites that wrote against the government and these were filtered. But now they seem to be overdoing it by filtering Web sites that are not in line with their political party," said one Mousavi supporter, Barzegar. "However, this will not have a noticeable effect on keeping people from knowing their favorite candidates."

Some say such moves indicate that the government is blocking out the opposition's voice.

"The TV has not even informed people clearly about the exact time of Mr. Mousavi's speech on Channel One [a local TV station]," said Masoumeh Salmani, a Mousavi supporter, earlier this week.