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Iranians look for economic help from Friday's election

May 19, 1997
Web posted at: 12:05 p.m. EDT (1605 GMT)

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Iranian voters will have the economy on their minds Friday as they go to the polls to select a new president.

Rising prices and unemployment are the chief complaints among Tehran's population, particularly the young.


"My son has graduated from university as a chemist and my daughter is leaving high school," said a middle-aged mother. "They cannot find work."

Four candidates are vying for the post currently held by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who finishes the second of two terms allotted by the Iranian constitution. Three of the four come from Iran's ruling clerical establishment, although the two leading candidates represent different wings.


Ultra-conservative parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri is backed by supreme spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Shiite clergy and the rich merchant class.

The so-called reformers, intellectuals, women and young people back former culture minister Mohammed Khatami, who also has the support of Rafsanjani and his lieutenants.

The victor is unlikely to change Iran's relations with Western nations -- Khamenei has the last word on foreign policy, said Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati. Khamenei has said that the mere mention of improving relations with the United States would be political suicide.

The moderate Khatami backs easing some of the strict Islamic code that has been in effect since the Islamic revolution toppled Iran's shah 18 years ago. His advocacy of easing restrictions that govern everything from women's dress to whether TV satellite dishes should be allowed has wide support.

Some Khatami supporters believe their candidate is more likely to help with jobs and inflation, while Nateq-Nouri supporters say the same about their candidate.

Just how much either candidate -- or one of the other two candidates -- can actually do to change the high cost of living remains to be seen, because Iran is in the middle of a five-year economic plan that ends in 2000.

Correspondent Christiane Amanpour contributed to this report.

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