Iran Stunned by Hard-Liner's Electoral Showing

Hardline clerics fired a warning shot in Iran's run-off race for president by barring Monday's issue of a pro-reform newspaper, while the race's front-runner denounced some clerics as "reactionaries."

The shaky favorite in Friday's second-round vote, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani (search), won the key support of two major reform parties — a boost after he just barely squeaked into first place in last week's first round of voting.

In the camp of his rival, hardline Tehran mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (search), optimism was high, with campaigners predicting a win.

The run-off race is too tight to call. Accusations of vote-rigging in the first round linger and there are fears Revolutionary Guard (search) soldiers will muscle voters into supporting Ahmadinejad, a former Guard commander.

In a statement carried on his campaign Web site, Rafsanjani accused "reactionaries" in the government of misusing public money to mount a slander campaign against him.

He expressed concern about "organized intervention" in last Friday's presidential elections when he took a dismal 21 percent of the vote, just two percentage points ahead of Ahmadinejad, who was the dark horse in the race.

The largest pro-reformist party, the Executive of Construction Party, led by the brother of outgoing President Mohammad Khatami (search), announced its support for Rafsanjani, as did an influential moderate party, the Islamic Revolution Mujahedeen Organization.

At 70 years old, Rafsanjani, was once considered a hard-liner himself but has moderated his stand and today is referred to as a pragmatist and savvy politician. Despite his setback at the polls, Rafsanjani is still a powerful figure in Iranian politics as chairman of the Expediency Council.

Mahdi Karroubi (search), a former parliament speaker who lost the second spot to Ahmadinejad by two-tenths of a percentage point, has written two letters to Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The first letter simply sought an investigation into irregularities.

But on Sunday he wrote a second letter, this time resigning from the powerful Expediency Council, which arbitrates between the Guidance Council and Parliament. In his letter, Karroubi demanded a recount of votes and for Khamenei to step forward and "stop some parts of the Revolutionary Guard and some officials from illegally intervening in the elections. Do not let a new bitter experience to be added to old ones."

The hard-line controlled judiciary ordered publication stopped for Monday's issue of the reformist daily Eqbal. The order did not give a reason, but a senior editor, Karim Arqandehpour, told The Associated Press he suspected it was shut down to prevent publication of Karroubi's letter.

The Persian-language daily newspaper was also a big supporter of the most moderate of the presidential candidates, Mostafa Moin (search), former culture minister, who finished fifth in the race.

The run-off race is the first since Iran's revolution in 1979 and takes place because no one candidate could muster the necessary 50 percent plus one to win an outright victory.

The official media announced Monday that a total of 80 ballot boxes would be chosen at random and recounted from the four provinces of Tehran, Qom, Masshad and Isfahan.

The sampling is a small one, with 42,000 polling stations having been set up throughout Iran and each polling station having at least one ballot box. The announced random recount was decided by the Guardian Council, which issued the order to the Interior Ministry.