Iran’s election becomes a referendum on Ahmadinejad

Tehran’s Vali Asr Street, the city’s longest, was a torrent of green as youths by the thousands paraded past, holding green posters, sporting green ribbons on wrists and car antennas and drinking green fruit drinks. Their choice of color was a proclamation of support for Mir Hossein Mousavi, the candidate who suddenly seems to have a chance of ousting President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The raucous rally Monday night for Mousavi, a former prime minister, had the air of a street fair, out of place in the usually staid Islamic Republic of Iran. Some residents described it as one of the largest unofficial gatherings since Iran’s Islamic revolution 30 years ago.

Not everyone was impressed. Ahmad Abbasi, who was watching from curbside, dressed in short sleeves, jeans and sandals, described Ahmadinejad, who’s widely reviled in the West, as simple, honest and humble.

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&lt;A HREF=””&gt;&lt;IMG SRC=””&gt;&lt;/A&gt; “It takes a lot in a person to not see himself as president, and to have the humility to bring himself down to my level,” said the 43-year-old ship builder, recalling the time he met Ahmadinejad. “This is why I respect the man.”

With an election watched around the world set for Friday, Iran’s presidential campaign has suddenly morphed into a bitter referendum on Ahmadinejad. Unprecedented personal attacks have erupted, the first-ever televised debates have been held, and political rumors abound.

In the process, the election has exposed deep social fault lines in this country of 66 million, which is one of President Barack Obama’s toughest foreign policy challenges.

On one side are the mostly young, urban and educated Tehranis who poured into the streets Monday night, hoping that Mousavi – who’s remembered for managing Iran’s economy during the 1980-88 war with Iraq – would reverse this oil-rich country’s steep price increases and unemployment. On the other are many of the working-class men and women, war veterans and rural Iranians who take pride in Ahmadinejad’s simple ways and thumbing of his nose at the West.

So Iran’s president is, depending on which Iranian you talk to, a national embarrassment who dispenses blather about the Holocaust and frittered away the country’s oil earnings during the peak of world oil prices, or an honest man of the people.


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