Moderates Sweep Iran's Vote despite Austerity Policy

Article excerpt

AT a rally in a poor Tehran neighborhood mosque before Friday's parliamentary election, Said Rajaie Khorassani addressed a rather thin audience of about 100, praising at length "the advantages of living in a totally Islamic society."

In the Iranian Islamic tradition, men sat on the floor and women stayed behind a curtain on the mezzanine. When the deputy, a supporter of President Hashemi Rafsanjani, finished he faced a slew of aggressive questions.

"How are you going to solve the housing crisis?" a woman asked.

"What is the government doing to slash raging inflation?" a man added.

"Our income comes from oil," Mr. Khorassani repeatedly answered. "For the time being the government hasn't enough money to satisfy all the population's needs. Our priority goes to rebuilding a powerful industrial structure."

Indeed, Iran is in dire economic straits, and Western diplomats here put the monthly inflation rate at 20 percent.

But despite the hardships, early election results yesterday gave Mr. Rafsanjani and his supporters a landslide victory. Of the 30 candidates with the largest number of votes in Tehran, 29 are Rafsanjani moderates, Ministry of Interior figures showed.

Most leading members of the Iranian parliament acknowledge that the economy is the worst it has been since the fall of the imperial regime in 1979.

"Those who claim there is no inflation are talking nonsense," said Mehdi Karrubi, the speaker of parliament, in a speech last week. "Problems are numerous and the low-income {earners} are hard pressed."

A woman at a food market concurs. "Look, three months ago a kilo of low quality fat meat cost 2,000 rials {$1.38}. Last month, it soared to 3,500 rials {$2.41}. And today I was stunned to see a kilo of meat posted at 4,500 rials {$3.10}. Chicken and egg prices are also going up by the day. I can't follow this pace. My husband and I are state employees."

Under the shah's regime no one would have dared to openly criticize. She goes on, "The value of real estate is skyrocketing as well. That means nowadays you can't rent a two bedroom apartment in a middle-class neighborhood for less than 200,000 rials {$137.93} per month.

"I know of women and men who had to divorce simply because they couldn't find a place to live together," she says.

"Iranians have already tightened their belts to the maximum. It can't go on like this for long. People are going to starve or there will be a social explosion."

Basic commodities are still available at specially reduced prices with food stamps. But a few weeks ago the government withdrew chicken and eggs from the list of products available with coupons. …