TEHRAN: Dazed young reformists tried on Saturday to come to terms with their battering in Iran’s presidential poll, sickened by an unappetising choice between two conservatives in a run-off next week.

Dispirited young liberals, many of them close to tears, milled around the campaign headquarters of presidential hopeful Mostafa Moin, whose crushing defeat extinguished hopes of a reformist successor to Mohammad Khatami.

Moin came fifth out of seven candidates. The two leading vote winners, powerful cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Tehran’s conservative mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will compete for the presidency in a run-off on Friday.

Voting for either pains reformists and they were divided on whether to back Rafsanjani, who is rebranding himself as a liberal or boycott the vote.

“Rafsanjani will not crack down on the youth like Ahamdinejad will do. There is still a chance so I am voting for him,” said Maryam, 24.

Rafsanjani has appeared on television, affably discussing sex, politics and satellite television with young people. He is also a vocal advocate of restoring ties with the West.

Ahmadinejad is loyal to the strict values of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and draws his support from the poor and has dismissed a rapprochement with Washington.

Given this stark choice, Moin himself told campaign workers that reformists should turn out and vote.

“The country’s condition is not such that we should boycott the election,” he said.

But Saeed, 18, felt he could back neither of the conservatives, referring to Rafsanjani’s 1989-1997 presidency.

“Those who voted for Ahmadinejad are the fruit of Rafsanjani’s era of poverty and corruption,” he said. Moin and another reformist hopeful, cleric Mehdi Karroubi, both claimed the vote had been rigged.

“Our new-born democracy is in danger. We should be on alert so that concerted efforts will not militarise our country,” a statement from Moin read.

Ahmadinejad, a former hardline Revolutionary Guard, said the result fairly reflected the will of the people.

One Tehran political analyst commented that tactical second-round voting was uncharted territory in Iran.

But he compared the run-off to France’s 2002 presidential poll, when even Jacques Chirac’s detractors had to vote for him to prevent far-right politician Jean-Marie Le Pen from winning.—Reuters

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