Saturday, June 13, 2009

Ahmadinejad enjoys second surprise triumph

Jun 13
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shook off accusations from moderate opponents of economic mis-management and criticism of his confrontational foreign policy with the West to win a second term as Iranian president.
While his re-election was not a major upset, the scale of his first-round victory stunned his main challenger, Mirhossein Mousavi, whose campaign had drawn tens of thousands onto the streets of Tehran during three weeks of campaigning. Ahmadinejad won twice as many votes as Mousavi.
It was not the first time Ahmadinejad, a blacksmith's son and former Revolutionary Guard, defied predictions. Four years ago the relative unknown stole the show by defeating powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a run-off vote.
In his first term in office Ahmadinejad became known to the outside world for his fierce rhetoric against the United States and Israel, his proud promotion of Iran's nuclear programme, and persistent questioning of the Holocaust.
But Friday's election was also seen as a referendum on his handling of an oil exporting economy which enjoyed a surge in petrodollar revenues on his watch -- a boom which critics say he squandered.
Ahmadinejad, 53, championed Iran's devout poor, especially those in rural areas, who felt neglected by past governments and helped sweep him to power in 2005.
He promised to put oil wealth on the table of every family in a nation of over 70 million people, distributing loans, money and other help for local projects on his frequent provincial tours.
But critics say his free-spending policies fueled inflation and wasted windfall oil revenues without reducing unemployment.
Since he took power, prices of food, fuel and other basics have risen sharply, hitting more than 15 million Iranian families who live on less than $600 a month, according to official figures.
He blamed the inflation, which officially stands at 15 percent, on a global surge in food and fuel prices that peaked last year, and pursued unorthodox policies such as trying to curb prices while setting interest rates well below inflation.
In a series of bitter television debates with his three election rivals, he was repeatedly accused of lying about the extent of price rises.
Mousavi also accused Ahmadinejad of undermining Iran's foreign relations with his fiery anti-Western speeches and said Iranians had been "humiliated around the globe" since he was first elected.
Modest lifestyle
Born in the farming village of Aradan, 100 km (60 miles) southeast of Tehran, his family moved to the capital in his early childhood. He studied engineering and has alternated between teaching and administrative posts.
Ahmadinejad, a small man who wears open-necked shirts and windbreakers, plays on his modest origins and lifestyle. After the 1979 revolution, he joined the elite Revolutionary Guard.
His rise to power appeared to signal a return to the stern revolutionary roots of the Islamic Republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, after hardliners snuffed out the reformist challenge when Mohammad Khatami was president from 1997 to 2005.
Ahmadinejad often denounces Western "hegemony" as well as the U.N. and U.S. sanctions that have raised trade costs and deterred Western investment in Iran's oil and gas sector.
During his term, the U.N. Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme, which the West suspects has military aims, not merely civilian ones as Tehran insists.
Ahmadinejad's moderate rivals say his fiery anti-Western talk has helped isolate Iran diplomatically.
The incumbent has basked in support from Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called on Iranians to vote for an anti-Western candidate. Khamenei ultimately calls the shots in Iran, where the president can only influence policy, not decide it.

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