TEHRAN, Iran — They’re sending roller-skating girls into the streets. Imploring Muslim Shiite saints for help. Wearing robes that make them seem modern — and trotting out the war veterans for photo ops.
Iran’s presidential candidates, liberals and hard-liners alike, are resorting to some tried-and-true Western campaign tactics — appealing to religious conviction, featuring pretty young women and showing their sensitive sides — to appeal to the country’s key voter bloc — young people.
Just three days before the crucial vote, the feverish campaigning was not slowed even by bombings Sunday in the capital and southwestern Iran that killed 10 people.
Iranians will choose a successor Friday to reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who cannot run again. Most of the eight candidates are hard-liners, who have nevertheless adopted popular reformist slogans to push their cause.
Youth vote is key
Young people make up the majority of Iran’s 70 million people, and their turnout and how they vote is considered key to who wins.
The front-runner, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, has made reaching out to young people a campaign priority — surprising many citizens of the capital as hundreds of young girls wearing heavy makeup with colorful headscarves began distributing his posters and sticking his photos on their cars.
Dozens of roller-skating girls with Rafsanjani’s name emblazoned on their clothing in English and in Farsi also whizzed across Tehran’s main streets at one point to attract public attention.
And some young women even have worn pro-Rafsanjani banners across the low back of their long but tight coats, their hair hanging loose down their backs — fashion that falls short of the strict Islamic dress code.
Rafsanjani also wept publicly during a campaign broadcast Saturday after a woman said she would not vote because of social restrictions.
Rafsanjani may have edge
With the reformers severely weakened, Rafsanjani is seen as the most credible force to stop hard-line allies of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, from seizing the presidency. A savvy politician, Rafsanjani has changed his stripes frequently, sometimes backing the hard-liner camp, and sometimes taking a more moderate line and seeking to build ties with the West.
That means many young women are backing him, fearful that freedoms gained under Khatami would end if the hard-liners win.
The most prominent reformer, Mostafa Moin, meanwhile, has resorted to pulling reformist heartstrings. His campaign film highlights Saeed Hajjarian, a reformer who was paralyzed for life and can’t speak fluently after being shot by a hard-line vigilante in 2000.
Moin’s main supporters are young people. Nevertheless, many of them have lost hope in democratic reforms under Khatami and find it difficult to trust that Moin will actually accomplish changes they want.
Hard sell with a twist
The hard-liners are joining the hard-sell bandwagon, too — using the same types of popular tactics, but with a twist.
The campaign film of Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former military commander, which has been broadcast on state-run television, shows him praying and addressing war veterans in military fatigues. He praises their sacrifices during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
At campaign appearances, Ahmadinejad surrounds himself with women dressed in head-to-toe black chador, with their faces covered.
Former parliamentary speaker Mahdi Karroubi, also considered a hard-liner, has some support among reform-minded voters loyal to the clerical establishment, but remains unpopular among young people.
To compensate, Karroubi has promised to pay every Iranian over the age of 16 a monthly sum of 500,000 rials, or about $60.
Karroubi has also started wearing a cream-colored robe, made famous by Khatami. Almost all Iranian clerics wear either black or brown-color robes, meaning that Khatami’s cream-colored one is seen by many young people as a sign of modernism and optimism.
Another hard-liner, the former head of the elite Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezaei, has appealed to Zahra, the daughter of Islam’s prophet Mohammad, for victory.
In his campaign film shown on state TV, Rezaei swore to Zahra, who is considered a saint, that if elected he will remain committed to his campaign promises of fighting financial corruption.
If no candidate gets 50 percent of the votes Friday, then a runoff between two top vote-getters would be held a week later.
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