14 Jun 2013

Iran archive: Ahmadinejad’s 2005 election

After a first round of voting, the 2005 battle for the Iranian presidency came down to two contenders: former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Tehran’s hard-line mayor.

In this report from 22 June 2005, Channel 4 News International Editor Lindsey Hilsum examines Ahmadinejad’s unexpected rise, and the success of a campaign emphasising his personal piety and honesty, while exploiting fears about the secularisation of Iranian society and conservative concerns about westernisation.

Backed in Tehran by the supreme leader, in the mosques by conservative clergy, and on the streets by the Basji, the feared “religious police”, Ahmadinejad appealed to the poorest voters in a country used to official corruption and facing economic hardship.

Under the mayor, all traffic roundabouts in Tehran became shrines to the martyrs of the 1980s Iran-Iraq war. After two years in office, explained one voter, he still drove the same car and lived in the same house. Another resident claimed: “He is one of us.”

Rafsanjani, regarded as a hardline cleric earlier in his political career, found himself depending on the backing of modernisers and students, terrified that Ahmadinejad would reverse hard-won social and human rights reforms.

And while the “immensely rich” former president spent millions on his campaign but appeared to ignore the very real concerns of the poor, his opponent enjoyed excellent organisation at street level, aimed at mobilising the votes of those much more worried about jobs, water, food and shelter than relations with the west, human rights or Iran’s controversial nuclear programme.

In the run-off vote on 24 June 2005, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won 62 per cent of the vote to become the sixth president of the Islamic republic of Iran.