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Election turns into carnival-time for Iran voters

Iran's presidential election has turned into carnival-time for voters in the Islamic republic who have poured into the streets "to party until dawn" in support of candidates.

world Updated: Jun 11, 2009 16:38 IST

Iran's presidential election has turned into carnival-time for voters in the Islamic republic who have poured into the streets "to party until dawn" in support of candidates.

"Let's cut the president's term to one month and extend the campaign to four years!" read a text message circulating on Iranian cell phones as campaigning ended on Thursday.

Under conservative clerical rule for the past three decades, Iran has little to offer in terms of nightlife in the absence of clubs and bars.

And to top it all, Iran has also been subject to a crackdown on "un-Islamic" attire and behaviour as the omnipresent morality police warn and arrest "unruly" citizens.

But the campaign for Friday's election gave Iranians an excuse to hold street parties in support of the frontrunners, former premier Mir Hossein Mousavi and incumbent
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

At nightfall, young people and families with children in tow would cruise around in cars festooned with pictures and campaign stickers, many wearing green for Mousavi and others waving the Iranian flag for Ahmadinejad.

Both camps staged a public show of force this week.

A green human chain snaked through Vali Asr, Tehran's longest street linking north to south, in support of Mousavi, while thousands of others took part in a pro-Ahmadinejad
march on Enghelab (Revolution) Avenue which runs east-west.

Although "carnivals" are a usual fixture of Iranian elections, this year's campaign was more open, spurred on by unprecedented television debates in which candidates traded accusations of dishonesty and corruption.

Hardliner Ahmadinejad, seeking to bolster his man-of-the-people image, charged that some Mousavi supporters, including sons of powerful cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, had received financial privileges in the past.

Mousavi, who is backed by reformist former president Mohammad Khatami, has repeatedly called Ahmadinejad a liar who fiddles with statistics to conceal his failures. Both appear to have hit home with the electorate.

With her cherry red lipstick and loose headscarf, Fariba would hardly pass as an Ahmadinejad supporter, many of whom are said to be rural, conservative and poor.
But the 32-year-old hairdresser driving around an uptown neighbourhood with her husband said she "admires the brave little man."

"After 30 years, someone has dared to expose the thieves," she said as Persian pop
blarred out of her brand new Peugeot 206.

The attacks on Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, are repeated as slogans on the streets and the president's claims of successful management have unleashed a torrent of jokes.

Young men, bearded or sporting funky hairdos, and women, dolled-up or draped in the traditional black chador, carry placards that read "Lying, forbidden" in the shape of a traffic sign.

"Atal matal tootooleh, diktatore kootooleh," the greens sing in unison their new rendition of a nursery rhyme, likening the president to a "dwarfish dictator!"

Ahmadinejad's supporters shoot back: "Ham doktore, ham shire, shabi ye dozd migire" (He is both a doctor and a lion; he catches a thief every night).

"This reminds me of the revolutionary days," Ebrahim Kavoosi, a 60-year-old cab driver said, as the crowd jeered and booed each other in the congested Pasdaran street.

The father of three, who drives as a second job to make ends meet, hoped his candidate, "Mir Hossein," would allow more social freedom and create new jobs if elected.

Mousavi, who was Iran's prime minister during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, is usually referred to by his first name among older Iranians.

The campaign has been peaceful in most areas, with the police standing by to watch.

However, violent clashes between rival supporters have led to some restrictions such as in Narmak, a middle-class suburb of eastern Tehran and the home district of Ahmadinejad.

"They got really violent the other night, they were throwing rocks and set a motorbike on fire," said Amir Hossein, a 22-year-old mechanical engineering student.