Youth may be challenge for Ahmadinejad in poll

Mon Jun 8, 2009 1:16am EDT
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By Zahra Hosseinian

TEHRAN (Reuters) - The young Iranians cruising noisily around upscale northern Tehran in cars plastered with election posters have only one thing on their minds: denying President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term.

Millions of reform-minded Iranians stayed away from the polls in 2005, disillusioned by how hardliners had stymied former President Mohammad Khatami's liberal initiatives.

Ahmadinejad's political fate may well hang on how many of those jaded voters turn out on June 12 -- if only to thwart him.

"I will vote, but only because I want to see anyone but Ahmadinejad win. He has ruined the country," said Mina Sedaqati, a 25-year-old sociology student at Tehran University, over coffee and doughnuts with friends in northern Tehran.

More than two-thirds of Iran's 70 million people are aged under 30, making them too young to remember life before the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah.

All four presidential candidates are wooing youthful voters in speeches and campaign messages and have used popular networking and content-sharing sites such as Facebook to target young people.

More than 150,000 Iranians are Facebook members, and young voters make up a huge bloc which helped Khatami win elections in 1997 and 2001. Access to Facebook was blocked for a few days last month, suggesting government concern at its influence.

But analysts say the anti-Ahmadinejad vote is likely to be split between the radical president's two moderate rivals, ex-Prime Minister Mirhossein Mousavi and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi.   Continued...

<p>A supporter holds a placard that reads "Practical Reformist, Mehdi Karroubi" during an election campaign at a stadium in Tehran, May 29, 2009. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi</p>