Iranian voters woke up a day after pivotal elections to find their country facing a run-off following results which defied all predictions.
Mohammed Ali Saki, political editor of the English-language daily Tehran Times said the runoff surprised not only the Iranian voters but the government of the Islamic Republic itself.
"All the polls and predictions must have been wrong," he told Aljazeera.net.
"Given these results, it is hard to predict who will emerge as the winner in the second round next week."
Early on Saturday, a spokesman for the Guardian Council supervising the elections said all candidates had failed to garner the needed 50% of votes required to avoid a run-off.
Former Iranian President and influential cleric Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani managed nearly 21%, with his closest rival, Tehran mayor Mahmood Ahmadinejad - considered a hardliner - coming in a close second just with over 20%.
Western analysts closely monitoring the Iranian elections had predicted a win for Rafsanjani.
"They were all wrong," says Saki.
"It was always too close to call … close competition between all camps – the conservatives, the moderates, and the reformists."
But Mansour Siraty of Iran's popular Sharbe newspaper believed Ahmadinejad's gains would likely mean Rafsanjani could very well lose next week.
"No, I do not think Rafsanjani will win. I think … Ahmadinejad," he told Aljazeera.net.
While Iranian media touted the higher than expected turnout – some 65% of the electorate voted in Friday’s elections – government officials were thumbing their noses at what they called "Western nations".
Officials said about 65% of the
electorate cast their vote
"This run-off is proof that we don’t tamper with election results, we don't suppress the voice of the people, and we don’t bow to foreign interests," said a government official on the condition of anonymity.
"Iran is democratic. What is happening in Iran proves it."
Saki agreed saying the Unites States should stop "making noise".
Both were reacting to White House statements on Thursday criticising the Islamic Republic for "suppress(ing) liberty at home and spread(ing) terror across the world".
Iranian media quoted officials saying the deadline for polling stations to close was extended by two hours in most districts throughout the Islamic Republic to account for the large turnout.
Early Saturday figures showed 32 million Iranians had voted.
Victory for Iran
Whether a conservative, reform party member or moderate emerges a winner next week, the government is calling the elections a victory for the Islamic Republic.
Khamenei: Each vote cast was a
victory for the Islamic system
Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, considered one of the more conservative of the influential clerics in Iran, said any vote on Friday indicated faith in the Islamic system and the electoral process.
"Some of our enemies do not like to see an Islamic system which can both maintain its religious nature and rely on the votes of its people at the same time," Khamenei told reporters shortly after casting his vote.
Reformist cleric Mehdi Karoubi came in third place with 17.57% of the vote.
Mostafa Moin, also a reformist once touted as Rafsanjani’s most determined challenger was in fourth place on Friday evening, but was slightly overtaken by Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf early on Saturday.