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Iran re-elects Rafsanjani president, but many snub voting

Officials on Sunday confirmed the inevitable outcome of presidential elections: President Hashemi Rafsanjani was re-elected. But they also conceded the margin of victory was far closer than expected.

Instead of winning Friday's election by 90 percent _ as predicted by observers and opinion polls _ Rafsanjani won only 63 percent, the Interior Ministry announced. In 1989, he won 94 percent of the vote.

Millions of voters, disgusted by Rafsanjani's failure to end economic woes, snubbed the election, which was engineered to re-elect Rafsanjani to another four-year term.

Ahmed Tavakoli, a former labor minister, won 24 percent, the ministry said.

"The election shows that the population is unhappy," Tavakoli told Tehran radio on Sunday.

In a victory speech, Rafsanjani acknowledged that economic hardships still exist but claimed that the hardest part of reconstruction from the 1980-88 war with Iraq was over and that Iran was nearing "the easy road."

The low turnout showed many Iranians are skeptical. The Interior Ministry said 56 percent of the electorate of 29-million had gone to the polls. In 1989, 70 percent voted.

Of the two other challengers, Abdullah Jafar-Ali Jasebi, a university chancellor, won 9.1 percent. Rajab Ali-Taheri, an ex-parliament deputy, received 2.4 percent, or nearly 400,000 votes.

The total percentage of votes indicated that 1.5 percent of the voters had cast blank ballots, perhaps to get the mandatory stamp on their identity cards needed for everything from getting jobs to obtaining a passport.

"But many people still stayed away, which is an indication of their disgust," said Farah Faramarzi, a proofreader at one of Tehran's major newspapers.

Rafsanjani has staked his reputation on reviving the economy, which is still reeling from the war with Iraq.

In his speech, which was broadcast nationally, he promised better days ahead.

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