Iran: Polls put Ahmadinejad in lead for June 12

But challengers Karroubi and Moussavi slowly gaining voters through Internet [The Media Line].

Karroubi purple towel clean hands 248 88 (photo credit: AP)
Karroubi purple towel clean hands 248 88
(photo credit: AP)
Reformist candidate Mehdi Karroubi has become the principal challenger to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a national poll of over 30,000 Iranians has found. The survey, released on Saturday by the Young Journalists Club, suggests that cleric and former parliament speaker Karroubi has pulled ahead of Mir Hossein Moussavi, both of whom were said to be behind the incumbent president in the run-up to the June 12 elections. Earlier this week, Moussavi was thought to be four points ahead of Ahmadinejad, following a poll by Ayandeh News in Iran's 10 largest cities, including Teheran. While an IRIB poll last week also showed a Moussavi lead in Teheran, the overall discrepancy between the two surveys is believed to be due to the political interests behind those conducting the polls. The Young Journalists Club is affiliated with Iran's state broadcaster IRIB (Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting) and accused of bias toward Ahmadinejad, whereas the Ayandeh News poll was conducted only in urban electoral districts, the traditional stronghold of reformist candidates. "It's natural that a poll done by the IRIB, Iranian state television, would be in favor of Ahmadinejad," Hossein Bastani, an Iranian blogger, told The Media Line. "The publication of statistics and information in Iran is controlled by the government. You can never expect such an organization to publish a poll that is against Ahmadinejad." Karroubi has put jobs, welfare and an extensive economic plan at the center of his electoral platform, a gamble which seems to be paying off. "Karroubi's proposed plans have put the candidate well before Moussavi," the Young Journalists Club survey results stated. With the help of dozens of economists, Karroubi has put together an economic plan calling for increased production, efficiency and efforts to attract foreign investment. Part of the plan involves selling Iran's shares in the country's oil industry and offering each adult Iranian citizen a share in state-run oil companies. The plan also calls for the government to foot the bill for 75 percent of university tuition. During a campaign stop at Teheran's Amirkabir University of Technology on Saturday, students broke down security gates and escorted Karroubi to a podium after university guards tried to prevent the candidate from entering. Digital Kalashnikov, an Iranian blogger and journalist, captured the raucous scene on film. "He didn't have many votes when he started," Bastani said, "because of his special approach Karroubi's rise has been very rapid compared to other candidates... Karroubi's media team is more professional and he has been very open to new ideas and attracting professional journalists and theoriticians to his campaign." "Karroubi openly talks about the changes needed in Iran's constitution, which attracts intellectuals," Bastani added. "He was the first candidate to talk about the direct distribution of oil revenues in the country, which is attractive to the poorer levels of society." Karroubi sharply criticized Ahmadinejad's economic policies in a radio interview Saturday night. "If interest rates are to come down they must come down along with inflation, but as we know that did not happen," he said, arguing that the incumbent president's policy of cutting interest rates had led to inflation. Ahmadinejad cut interest rates at the start of his four-year team in an effort to boost production and create jobs. Critics argue the cuts have led to growing inflation, increasing liquidity levels and overall have done more harm than good. The Iranian president's most recent TV campaign video, aired Friday, argues that the global recession has not seriously affected Iran. "Iran's economy is stable," Ahmadinejad claimed in the 30 minute advertisement, which featured the incumbent president visiting remote areas of the country and inaugurating various nuclear facilities. The vast majority of Iranians only have access to seven government-run TV channels. This has led opposition candidates - Karroubi, Moussavi and Mohsen Rezaei - to text messages, email, blogs and online social networking websites as platforms to reach Iranian youth. "Ahmadinejad and his rivals are not on the same playing field in terms of accessing public media," Bastani said. "We do not have private radio and television in Iran, so reformists must look for other alternative media." As of October 2005, there were an estimated 700,000 Iranian blogs, representing a demographic largely critical of Ahmadinejad's leadership. Karroubi has used the Internet to openly criticize Ahmadinejad for the suppression of press freedom, heavy filtering of the Internet, violation of women's rights and execution of juveniles, all taboo subjects on state media. The candidate's visits with young Iranian musical groups have also been publicized online. Facebook has found itself host to a lively debate among supporters of the two principal reformist candidates, Moussavi and Karroubi. One popular pro-Moussavi clip on the video-sharing site YouTube advocates for former prime minister Moussavi's rationality against Ahmadinejad's failed economic politics. The video uses the Broadway song "Anything You Can Do" as a soundtrack. Hundreds of blogs and websites providing a platform to the opposition candidates, including Twitter and Facebook, have been blocked recently. "The government knows that it cannot compete in the virtual space," Bastani added. "This is why the government tries to intervene in this fight and control the internet."