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Sehaty Foreign Exchange

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Western suits, ties mark new style for Islamic Republic

TEHRAN, Feb 25 (AFP) - Western-style management qualifications and suits and ties are taking over from Islamic beards and long prison records under the shah as the way to appeal to voters as Iran goes to the polls for its first ever municipal elections Friday.

In the capital one candidate for the city council has even earned the nickname "Mr. Tie" for his audacity in plastering the streets with pictures of himself wearing an item of clothing long scorned by the Islamic authorities as an unacceptable legacy of the pro-western shah.

Just a few years ago the tie would have earned Sadeq Sameieh serious problems with Iran's ubiquitous Islamic militias.

But now the cleanshaven, besuited image is a viable campaign strategy as the daily problems of everyday life here make voters more interested in a candidate's administrative abilities than in demonstrations of revolutionary commitment.

Sameieh, a wealthy British-educated publisher, promises voters in this congested metropolis of well over 10 million that he will tackle the problems of overcrowding and pollution and make the city a "beautiful, healthy, prosperous and well-managed place to live."

"Contrary to the norm in other elections, most candidates emphasize their professional and educational backgrounds instead of relying solely on their revolutionary experience," commented the English-language Iran News.

"Another difference between this election campaign and others is that the code of dress no longer plays a determining role in a candidate's success or failure.

"This social tolerance could be found only at the very early stages of the revolution," the paper remarked. Even the most conservative of Shiite Moslem clerics seem to have recognized the need to adopt a more modern, people-friendly style to woo the voters.

Hojatoleslam Qodratollah Alikhani, a bearded, white-turbaned prelate, enlisted footballers, women's associations and representatives of the capital's ethnic minorities to join his campaign caravan as it toured the streets.

Alikhani promised not a holier or more Islamic capital, but a "fresher, more beautiful" one.

Another conservative candidate's platform reflected the voters' new priorities even more starkly.

Top of Afzal Mussavi's list of promises for the capital came "150 kilometres (100 miles) of new streets and motorways," last came "100 new mosques and prayer halls."

The clergy still dominates the lists of candidates, both reformist and conservative.

The head of the main reformist list in the capital, Vice President Abdollah Nuri, is a senior cleric and former close aide of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

High on his list is former US hostage taker Ibrahim Asqarzadeh, now middle-aged and, like many of Iran's radicals of the 1980s, a reformist supporter of moderate President Mohammed Khatami.

The conservative list is headed by Ali Kamushi, head of the powerful Chamber of Commerce and an influential member of the Tehran bazaar, a stronghold of traditionalists.

But, as Iran News observed, whether the candidates are conservative, reformist or independent, the "campaigning and advertising have changed dramatically."

"Some candidates use the popularity of high clerics and other political, cultural and even sports figures to enhance their own among voters," the paper observed.

"One candidate used caricatures in promoting his candidacy which was like a breath of fresh air compared to the suffocating traditional style."


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