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Last Updated: Friday, 17 June, 2005, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Iranian blogs take on the election
By Mehdi Jami

Young woman holds on to picture of reform candidate Moin
Iranians have found a new voice on the elections through blogs
The Persian blogland is less than four years old, and so Friday's presidential election is the first of its kind in the post-weblog world.

Iranian weblogs, one of the largest web communities in the world, owe their significance to the welcome they have received from middle-class Iranians inside and outside the country.

Thousands of voices not heard via Iranian state-owned media can now express their views through the internet.

During the past weeks, the Iranian urban middle-class has published a huge amount of articles on weblogs about its preoccupation with the presidential election. They have left no stream of thought unrepresented.

These discussions are invariably about one of two topics: Boycotting the election or voting for three of the candidates - former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, former science minister Mostafa Moin or former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

The other candidates are not talked about as such on the weblogs.

Boycotting tension

Many bloggers have been calling for a boycott of the election after becoming disillusioned by the reformists.

According to Massoud Borjian: "This time, not only the monarchists, communists and old opponents of the regime, but the rank and file of the radical wing of Iranian reformists have joined the boycott."

Woman wearing stickers in support of Rafsanjani walks past poster of him
Bloggers remain split over the prospects of frontrunner Rafsanjani

Some of them believe the regime is illegitimate. Others say the president lacks true executive power. Others refuse to vote because they think none of the candidates represent their views.

The staunchest advocates of boycotting the elections are in Iran.

Dissident activist Akbar Ganji is one of them, although he does not blog.

Abbas Maroufi, an Iranian novelist living in Germany, wrote in his weblog: "I boycott the election to pay tribute to Akbar Ganji, regardless of minor discussions about the merits of individual candidates."

But former Vice-President Mohammad Ali Abtahi, a blogger, has called on fellow bloggers living outside Iran to avoid making choices difficult for those in the country.

"Boycotting the elections will pave the way for a despotic candidate," he says.

"This will make life difficult for those who live and write weblogs in Iran and do not want to end up in jail."

Dissecting the candidates

Mr Qalibaf has been the unluckiest of all candidates across the Iranian blogland. Once he had serious supporters on the web, but now he seems isolated.

I vote for Rafsanjani because I do not want to trade something definitely mediocre with a possible catastrophe
Blogger Mahmoud Farjami

Hamed Qoddoussi, an Iranian blogger in Vienna, was Mr Qalibaf's most serious advocate, but recently he withdrew his support and described him as inexperienced.

Kourosh Aliani, a blogger in Iran, defends Mr Qalibaf against Mr Rafsanjani and Mr Moin.

However, he says: "I do not believe that you could hand over Iran to Qalibaf. I believe that no matter which one of these eight men is elected, there is going to be a return to tension."

In blogland, Mr Moin remains the most important candidate. Many bloggers are his supporters and others believe it is essential to express their stance about him.

But there are many critical postings too. One critic is Mahmoud Farjami, a journalist in Tehran, who addressed supporters of Mr Moin's who had questioned Mr Rafsanjani's track record.

"A career in the government does not necessarily mean that one is an accomplice in the regime's crimes," he writes.

"How about the track record of the reformist candidate? Is it indicative of experience and maturity?"

Divisions over frontrunner

There is little in blogland in support of Mr Rafsanjani. There has been extensive propaganda about the cost of his campaign and many have criticised him for political liberties during his term of office as president.

Bahman Kalbasi, a blogger in Toronto, warns that a low turnout could lead to a Rafsanjani victory.

"Not taking part in the election would be an historical mistake," he writes.

Such criticism leaves those who want to defend him in a difficult situation.

Alireza Doustdar is one of the most serious supporters of Mr Rafsanjani in Iranian blogland. He says he would vote for Mr Rafsanjani because he is disillusioned with the reformists.

"He has never worked with a homogenous body of managers," he says in his blog.

"Both Khatami, a reformist, and Velayati, a hardline conservative, have been his cabinet ministers and he will have ministers in his next cabinet from across the political spectrum."

Blogger Mahmoud Farjami has been openly defending Mr Rafsanjani recently.

"I vote for Rafsanjani because I do not want to trade something definitely mediocre with a possible catastrophe," he writes.

"I have seen his good and bad deeds... I know he is not an angel but I know that he is not evil either."

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