Photos: Iran elections

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  1. Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, top, looks at judiciary chief Mahmoud Hashemi Shahrudi, right, as he embraces Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after he was sworn in for a second four-year term during a ceremony in parliament in Tehran on August 5, 2009. Ahmadinejad was sworn in as Iranian president as riot police broke up opposition protests over an election that triggered the worst turmoil in the Islamic republic's history. Framed pictures are portraits of Iranian "martyrs". (Behrouz Mehri / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. An Iranian protester holds-up a placard as a burned U.S. flag is seen on the ground during an anti-Britain protest in front of the British embassy in Tehran on Tuesday, June 23. Iran accused U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday of interfering in its state affairs in his comments about the Islamic Republic's disputed June 12 election, the ISNA news agency reported. (Fars News via Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. This photograph posted on the internet shows two Iranian women taking cover from a cloud of either tear gas or smoke at an anti-government protest in Tehran, Iran Saturday, June 20. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Supporters of Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi fight running battles with riot police on Saturday, June 20, in Tehran. Several thousand defied an ultimatum from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling for an end to protests over last week's disputed presidential election results. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A Mousavi supporter holds a toy gun in his hand to intimidate police and militia during Saturday's protests. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mousavi supporters run from tear gas fired by riot police in Tehran on Saturday. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Iranian protesters cover their face from tear gas during clashes with riot police in Tehran on Saturday. (Ali Safari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. A Mousavi supporter shows her hand covered in the blood of a person injured Saturday. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. A protester cheers as a bus burns in Tehran on Saturday. (Ali Safari / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. People tend to an injured woman as supporters of Mousavi protest in Tehran on Saturday. (Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, front right, leads the weekly Friday prayer at Tehran University. Khamenei called for an end to street protests, siding with declared winner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in his first public appearance since the protests began. (Behrouz Mehri / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Khamenei makes his address as part of Friday prayers at Tehran University. He spoke a day after hundreds of thousands of protesters in black and green flooded the streets of Tehran in a somber, candlelit show of mourning for those killed in clashes after Iran's disputed presidential election. (Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,left, talks to Judiciary Chief Mahmood Hashemi Shahroodi during Friday prayers in Tehran. (Morteza Nikoubazl / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. An Iranian man listens to Khamenei's Friday prayer sermon outside Tehran University on Friday. (Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Iranian men shout slogans outside Tehran University on Friday during the Ayatollah's speech. (Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Mir Hossein Mousavi, center, acknowledges the crowd during a demonstration Thursday in Tehran where his supporters gathered to honor demonstrators killed in clashes over the disputed election. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Iranian supporters of Mousavi gather in the streets Thursday in Tehran. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Candles are lit for the demonstrators who were killed on June 16. In the background, a slogan that reads 'Death to dictator' is seen on a Tehran street on Thursday. (Ali Zare / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Iranian supporters of defeated opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi demonstrate Wednesday, June 17, in Tehran, Iran. Thousands of people are protesting in the streets of Tehran today with expectations of an even larger protest Thursday as a day of mourning is planned for the eight people killed in Monday's protests. Iran has banned foreign media from covering rallies in the country. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Iranian supporters of defeated reformist presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi demonstrate on June 17, 2009 in Tehran, Iran. Iran's Guardian Council reportedly said that they would recount some of the votes in presidential election that critics say was unfairly won by Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinehjad. (Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. A broken computer monitor in a room in a Tehran University dormitory after it was attacked by militia forces during riots in Tehran, Monday, June 15, Iran. Overnight, police and militia stormed the campus at the city's biggest university, ransacking dormitories and arresting dozens of students angry over what they claim was election fraud. Iran's media clampdown seeks to restrict what its citizens and the world can see of street protests. But it's the Internet age, and protesters can take video and photos with cellphones and transmit them over the Web - a huge change from the primitive communications during Iran's 1979 revolution. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. A demonstrator shows a picture of former presidential candidate Mirhossein Mousavi during a rally in support of Mousavi near the Azadi (Freedom) monument, western Tehran on Monday. (Caren Firouz / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Demonstrators stand on railings to get a view of the crowds, next to posters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, as hundreds of thousands of supporters of leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims there was voting fraud in Friday's election, turn out to protest the result of the election at a mass rally in Azadi square in Tehran, Iran, Monday, June 15. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. A man wounded by gunfire is removed from an area where pro-government militia were firing shots in the air near a rally supporting leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in Tehran, Iran, Monday. Hundreds of thousands gathered in Azadi (Freedom) square in Tehran to support Mir Hossein Mousavi, who claims there was voting fraud in Friday's election. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Defeated Iranian presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, center, addresses supporters as he attends a rally with his wife Zahra Rahnavard in Tehran on Monday. (Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  26. A man lies on the back of a taxi, after being seriously injured by gunfire in an area where pro-government militia were firing shots in the air at a rally supporting leading opposition presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in Tehran, Iran, Monday. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  27. Protestors set fires in a main street in Tehran, Iran early on Monday morning. Iran's supreme leader ordered an investigation into allegations of election fraud on Monday. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  28. Iranian plain clothes policemen beat a demonstrator with batons during a protest against the election results in Tehran on Sunday. (AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  29. Supporters of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad cry as he addresses them during a victory celebration on Sunday. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  30. President Ahmadinejad on Sunday holds his first news conference after Iran's controversial presidential election on Friday. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  31. Mousavi supporters try to calm fellow demonstrators as they clash with a riot policeman in Tehran on Saturday. (Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  32. Smoke billows from a burning bus as a supporter of Mousavi flashes the victory sign during a protest in Tehran on Saturday. (Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  33. Iranian riot police clear burning debris as supporters of the defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi fought running battles using stones and petrol bombs against police on Saturday. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  34. A Mousavi supporter hurls a stone at an Iranian police officer during riots on Saturday. (Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  35. An injured Mousavi supporter covers his face during riots in Tehran on Saturday. (Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  36. An Iranian riot-police officer sprays tear-gas at a Mousavi supporter, who is advancing with a stick on Saturday. (Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  37. Ahmadinejad supporters flash the victory sign during celebrations in the Shiite holy city of Qom, about 70 miles south of Tehran, on Saturday. (Amir Hesami / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  38. Supporters of the reformist candidate protest the declaration of victory for Ahmadinejad on Saturday. Their preferred candidate, Mousavi, denounced the results as "treason." (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  39. Anna Seyedan casts her vote for president of Iran as her daughter Sameen watches on Friday at a polling place in Potomac, Md., for Iranian citizens living in the Washington area. Iran was voting on whether to keep hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in power for four more years or replace him with a candidate more open to loosening the country's Islamic restrictions and improving ties with the United States. (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  40. Iranian women stand in line to cast their votes at Masoumeh shrine in Qum, about 75 miles south of Tehran on Friday. (Kamran Jebreili / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  41. Ahmadinejad holds his passport up as he arrives to cast his ballot during the Iranian presidential election on Friday. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  42. Leading challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi holds his inked finger aloft after casting his vote with his wife Zahra Rahnavard. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  43. An Iranian woman casts her ballot in the presidential elections in a polling station in Tehran. (Behrouz Mehri / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  44. Iranian clerics check candidates' list before voting at the shrine of Hazrat-e Massoumeh, granddaughter of Prophet Mohammad, in the city of Qom. (Damir Sagolj / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  45. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech after casting his vote to elect a new president at his office in Tehran. (Olivier Laban-Mattei / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  46. A supporter of Ahmadinejad rides a motorcycle featuring a windshield covered with campaign posters during a rally in Tehran on June 10. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  47. Zahra Rahnavard, the wife of Mousavi, holds her husband's photograph during a campaign rally in Tehran on June 9. (Ahmed Jadallah / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  48. A supporter of Ahmadinejad displays her hand painted with the Iranian flag at his final election campaign rally in Tehran on June 10. (Ben Curtis / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  49. Supporters of Mousavi hold a rally in downtown Tehran on Monday, June 8. (Arash Khamooshi / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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  1. Behrouz Mehri / AFP - Getty Images
    Above: Slideshow (49) Iran election sparks violence - Iran elections
  2. Image:
    Walter Bieri / AP
    Slideshow (42) Iran election sparks violence - World reaction
  3. Shah Of Persia
    General Photographic Agency / Getty Images
    Slideshow (15) Iran election sparks violence - Iran's perilous path
  4. AP
    Slideshow (5) Iran election sparks violence - Protests: Then and now
By NBC News Producer
NBC News
updated 6/9/2009 7:45:43 AM ET 2009-06-09T11:45:43

Iran will hold presidential elections on Friday. Some analysts have said they are the most important elections since the 1979 revolution because the differences between the conservative and reformist candidates are so great and yet there is no clear front runner.

It is not a fait accompli that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be re-elected – a powerful conservative and two reformists have created stiff competition for him.  NBC News’ Ali Arouzi explains who the four candidates are and what issues are at stake. 

Who are the two reformist candidates? 
Mir Hossein Mousavi was the last prime minister Iran had before that political position was eliminated in 1989. He was the prime minister during the war with Iraq in the 1980s, so he is credited with helping Iran through a very difficult period. There were almost no supplies during that time, but he rationed things very well and kept people supplied with food and basic goods.

So that’s why he’s become such a front runner in this election — because the economy is in such turmoil. He had a strong position in turning the economy around during the war with Iraq, so a lot of people think he might be able to help the economy this time around as well.

Another interesting thing about Mousavi is that he’s been out campaigning with his wife and she’s been dubbed the “First First Lady” of Iran. She goes to all of the campaign rallies with him, they hold hands and she makes speeches — all of which was unheard of here before. She still wears the traditional chador, the cloak worn by Iranian women in public, but it’s still a very Western way of campaigning and nobody has ever done anything like that before. It appeals to a lot of older female voters.  

But Mousavi is a very gray character, that’s the problem with him. He’s not charismatic at all and so he doesn’t really inspire people. He doesn’t really appeal to a broad range of people because he’s not a great orator and when he gives press conferences he doesn’t answer a lot of questions.

But because he was the prime minister during the war, he is likely to get support in military circles.
 
Interestingly, also during the war, he was at odds with the supreme leader (the highest ranking political and religious authority in Iran).  At that time, there was a supreme leader, president and a prime minister. Ayatollah Khomeini was the supreme leader and Ali Khamenei (who is the current supreme leader) was the president and Mousavi was the prime minister. There were actually some questions marks over whether or not Mousavi would be given permission to run because he had clashed with the current supreme leader, Khamenei, a lot during that period. But having said that, there is no way he would have become a candidate if the supreme leader hadn’t given him the nod.

Mahdi Karroubi is the other reformist candidate. He is a prominent moderate reformist mullah. He ran in the first round of the last presidential elections in 2005 against Ahmadinejad, Ali Akbar HashemiRafsanjani and others. He was actually quite ahead in the polls in 2005 when the three of them were battling it out in the first round, but his lead quickly dissipated. He famously said that he went to sleep for an hour and woke up at the bottom of the pile.

He’s been involved in Iranian politics for a long time — he was the speaker of the Iranian parliament for several years — which is a very powerful position here. And this is the second time he’s tried to become president.

One of the points of contention people have against him in the reformist camp is that he’s a spoiler. Many believe that he has no chance of winning the election, but fear that he will take votes away from Mousavi, which will help Ahmadinejad. So people are hoping that he will pull out of the race, but he hasn’t.

Who is the conservative candidate?
Mohsen Rezaei is sort of center-right, but he is trying to bill himself as a semi-reformist. This election has really been a gloves-off campaign and he has accused Ahmadinejad of hurting Iranian foreign policy with his comments about the Holocaust and Israel. He said that the comments haven’t done Iran any favors and that we need to change that.

But interestingly, he is wanted by Interpol for allegations that he helped plan the bombing of the AMIA building, a Jewish center in Argentina, in 1994. The attack killed 85 and injured hundreds. Rezaei was head of the Revolutionary Guards, one of the most powerful branches of Iran’s military, for 16 years. He is accused of planning the attack because the Revolutionary Guards were calling the shots at the time – and still are.
 
As a candidate, he’s a wild card. It is very unlikely that he will get elected.  But out of all candidates — in terms of character and policy — he is probably closest to Ahmadinejad. He also has a strong military background, similar to Ahmadinejad.  

What are the key issues?   
The most important issue is the economy. The economy has taken a beating over the last couple of years, especially as oil prices have come down. That is people’s main concern and all the candidates are trying to tap into that.

Ahmadinejad has come out and said that if he gets elected, he plans to issue bonds to give people shares in the country’s oil wealth. He ran on a similar campaign promise when he got elected the first time in 2005. Every politician here campaigns on the same issue: “I am going to bring the oil revenue to your dinner table.”

But the problem is that Ahmadinejad hasn’t done that. Not only did gasoline become more expensive, but it became rationed. His main challenge is from the reform politicians who have accused his government of squandering Iran’s windfall of revenue from crude oil prices that were soaring until mid-2008. The reformers say, oil was at $150 a barrel, what the hell did you do with the huge profits? We should be in good economic shape, not suffering through an economic downturn.

Since he has a tough time convincing city dwellers that he is going to redistribute oil revenue, Ahmadinejad has tried to tap into his base of support in rural areas. Suddenly all the electricity is working, phones are working and people are able to get cheap loans. Ahmadinejad has reportedly even handed people checks for $50-100 in the villages. He’s been accused by Mousavi of buying votes. Of course, Ahmadinejad says that the money is to help the poor and disadvantaged. But a month before the election, it’s very suspicious.

The split here is really between the cities and the villages. People don’t think that Ahmadinejad will get votes in Iran’s cities. They think that Mousavi will get the big city votes, but they think Ahmadinejad will get all the votes in the rural areas.

How important are foreign affairs? Are relations with the U.S. and Israel an issue in the campaign?
A huge concern to people here is relations with the West. For the most part, people here favor better relations with the West because it would change their lives. They would see better products in Iran and it would open up the chance to travel for those who could afford it. It would also relieve some of the pressure and uncertainty about what might happen here next.

All the opposition candidates have all come out and said is that we need to fix better relations with the United States for the country to go forward. 
 
Who is eligible to vote in Iran?
Any man or woman who is over 18 is eligible to vote. 

How close is the election?     
A government official, who spoke with me on the condition of anonymity, said that in the history of Iran since the Islamic Revolution, there has never been an election this close. He said that it's way too close to call. He said that it is really 50-50 between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi. 

Under Iran's political system, if a leading candidate receives less than 50 percent of the vote, a runoff election is held between the top two vote-getters. But this government official said that if the election goes to a second round like it did the last time, he believes Ahmadinejad will lose.

Since the revolution in 1979, the incumbent has always had a 70-80 percent chance of getting re-elected. But early polls show that Ahmadinejad has only about a 50 percent chance of winning this time.   

How significant is this election? What is the mood on the street?
This is an important election. But essentially it’s not really going to change anything domestically. This is an Islamic Republic, so there are certain guidelines it has to adhere to, no matter who becomes the president.

But the very important thing about this election is that it could really affect how the West looks at Iran. If somebody like Mousavi comes in, it’s going to be a lot easier for the U.S and Israel to do business with Iran.  But if Ahmadinejad remains in power, it will be more of the same.

How legitimate are the election? Are there international monitors?
The elections are considered to be fairly legitimate. The police and the army monitor the elections, but no independent monitors are allowed in, it’s all done internally. 

But Iran does throw the doors open to the international press during the election. One of the reasons they do that is so that they can send a message out to the world that this is a free and democratic vote.  Any journalist who wants to come in from the United States, Europe or anywhere else is allowed in during the election.

So while there are no international monitors, by and large, people feel that their vote does count for something. Even though, in reality, the highest authority here — the supreme leader — not elected.

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