Many observers in Tehran believe the odds-on favorite to win the election is Ali Akhbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose support, according to recent polling data, stands at just under 30 percent. His closest rival among the seven candidates still in the running is now Moin, a former education minister under outgoing president Mohammad Khatami. Moin’s support has experienced a dramatic rise over the past week, leaping from 10 percent to roughly 16 percent, according to some polls. At the same time, the candidacies of hardliners - including Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the former head of national police force – have remained steady.
Political analysts in Tehran say a run-off between the two top vote-getters on June 17 is likely. Iranian election law states that a presidential candidate must receive at least 50 percent of the vote in the first round in order to avoid a run-off. It had long been assumed by most Iranian political observers that Rafsanjani would face a conservative candidate in the second round, provided a run-off was necessary. However, several factors altered conventional wisdom as the campaign drew to a close. First, infighting within the conservative camp prevented the nomination of a single hardliner candidate. Thus, the conservative vote stands to be diluted among three candidates who are all considered the standard-bearers of the old order. Meanwhile, Moin has waged a campaign that has energized reform-minded citizens and has attracted support from ethnic and religious minorities, including Kurds, Arabs and Sunni Muslims.
Some analysts say a Rafsanjani-Qalibaf run-off remains a strong possibility. But Moin’s name is increasingly mentioned as a second-round contender against Rafsanjani. Though the front-runner at present, Rafsanjani might face a stronger challenge from Moin in a possible run-off, some experts believe. In recent elections, including municipal polls in 2003 and the parliamentary vote last year, reform-minded voters stayed away from the polls in large numbers. Voter apathy was generated by the inability of Khatami’s reformist administration to implement its agenda, experts say. Heavy reformist turn-out in the presidential vote could potentially enable Moin to pull off an upset. The reformist daily Etemad characterized the election as "one of the most unpredictable in the history of the Islamic republic."
According to some estimates roughly 30 percent of Iran’s 46.7 million eligible voters are undecided. A large majority of the undecided voters are believed to be reform sympathizers, many of whom would be inclined to cast ballots for Moin. The essential question is: how many undecideds will actually turn out to vote?
According to various media reports, conservative groups, alarmed by the flat support for the hardliner candidates, are taking steps to keep the reform vote low on election day. For example, the country’s conservative-leaning security establishment has stopped jamming opposition broadcasts into Iran from the United States and Europe, according to the web site of Moshen Rezai, the former commander of the Revolutionary Guards and a current contender for president. Such foreign broadcasts have encouraged Iranians to boycott the election.
In addition, several published reports have also claimed that members of the hardliner-controlled Basij militia will be posted at selected polling stations across the country, a move that could possibly intimidate many voters. Meanwhile, the conservative-controlled Guardian Council, an unelected religious oversight body that is charged with vetting political candidates, has issued a statement asserting its right to disqualify a contender up to the moment official results are released.
Whatever the outcome, the presidential campaign appears to have changed the course of politics in Iran. Most candidates downplayed the country’s Islamic identity. Instead, the candidates, Rafsanjani and Moin in particular, focused their respective campaigns on addressing the socio-economic and cultural needs of voters. Instead of fighting for the endorsements of clergy members, all presidential candidates also seemed preoccupied with securing the support of Iranian young people. Roughly 70 percent of Iran’s population is under 30 years of age.
Moin and Rafsanjani were the only two who appeared to make inroads among young voters, Tehran experts said. Rafsanjani, for example, scored points for sponsoring a week-long music festival in Tehran, and for hiring young secular-looking women with scant veils as campaign workers.