Iranian women walk on a US flag painted
Patrick Baz  /  AFP - Getty Images
Iranian women walk on a U.S. flag painted on a street as they leave a polling station in southern Tehran on Friday.
By Producer
NBC News
updated 6/24/2005 10:01:24 AM ET 2005-06-24T14:01:24

TEHRAN, Iran — The television screen lit by Tehran's searing noon sun on Friday made the images barely visible but the gathered crowd watched intently.

On a stand outside an electronics supply store, the TV's blasting sound compensated for the poor picture. The campaign posters plastered on the shop's windows left no doubt. The owner stands squarely behind the unexpected candidate in Iran's presidential election runoff, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the mayor of Tehran.

Supporters of former President Hashemi Rafsanjani had taken to the streets at night blocking major intersections with their cars and blaring their horns. They urged people to elect their choice as president of Iran.

Amid accusations of election fraud and fiery campaign rhetoric, the decision to vote for either Rafsanjani or Ahmadinejad comes down to a matter of survival.

For the social and political reformists, still stinging from last year's parliamentary exclusion of candidates by the ruling clerical hierarchy, the fight is to preserve the small steps toward reform.

For the conservatives and hard-liners, the fight is to reclaim what they deem to be the original tenets of the 1979 Iranian revolution and the spirit of the man who ushered in the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeni.

For the rest of the society the fight is for real survival: to put food on the table, to have salaries that keep pace with the rising cost of living, and to have the opportunities to find financial security.

The children of the revolution have grown up and some, like many of their counterparts across the globe, have become disillusioned by the actions and broken promises of their leaders.

Those who have hoped the presidency of Mohammad Khatami would bring about progressive social and political reforms feel let down by his administration's inability to affect real and lasting change.

"Khatami destroyed all our hopes for the future," said Zahrah Tajli, 19, walking in downtown Tehran.

Iran's tortured path

For those who want an Islamic country also feel let down by the leadership, which they see as corrupt.

"I have lost my trust in my leaders,” said Najemeh, a student from south of Tehran. "They haven't looked after the youth of this country and any new president is going to have to regain my trust for me to believe in him. " 

Many want a country where religion comes from the heart and a leadership that looks after all the people's interests.

‘Iran is free’
Others feel comfortable in today's society. A young lady dressed in the traditional religious full body covering, a chador, said, "Everyone is talking about freedom, I feel Iran is free." A man outside a coffee shop said "I hope the next president will be strong enough to lead the country to a better future."

For all the debate over freedom and democracy, it is the economy that will lead this country out of the political quagmire. For the young that make up 70 percent of the population, jobs and a better quality of life are the biggest concerns.

Rafasanjani is running under a reform platform. He promises to carry on the reforms started by Khatami. His detractors accuse him of flip-flopping. "How can I vote for a man who ran the country as a conservative president for eight years and now all of a suddenly he is a reformist?" said Morteza,  a mini bus driver.

Ahmadinejad is running as a conservative outsider. Yet many fear that he will foist his strict religious beliefs on the public. "If he wins, we might as well close the doors to this country," said Majid, 27,a taxi driver.

With only two candidates left out of the original eight, it remains to be seen if people who did not vote in the first round will decide to turn out to cast their ballot. 

The government authorities are hoping for a high voter turnout to give legitimacy to their rule, but no matter who wins the election he will inherit a country that is facing many problems.

NBC producer Babak Behnam is on assignment in Iran.


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