THE results of yesterday's presidential election in Iran will be eagerly awaited in capital cities far from Tehran. Will the vote offer the promise of an end to Ahmadinejad's erratic and often offensive rule? Will the victor introduce policies less confrontational towards the West? Will Barack Obama's open hand be taken in a conciliatory spirit? The remarkable scenes of vast rallies by supporters of the two principal contestants and of strong open disagreements in TV debates have encouraged hopes in the West that a new era in relations with Iran may be possible. However, such optimism has to be tempered by the fact that the majority of Ahmadinejad's support comes from the poor in city slums and distant villages who are not seen on TV. It also has to be remembered that ultimately in Iran power lies with religious elders whose motives and decisions are not subject to democratic exposure.

Nonetheless there is reason to think that a new element of young, well-educated and ambitious voters -among them many women - see in Hossein Mousavi a relatively moderate man with a good administrative track record who might change the political atmosphere in Iran without in any way reducing the sense of national pride that is so important to all Iranian people. To be named as the next president a candidate has to get 50 per cent of all votes cast. Otherwise, there will be a run-off in a week's time between the two front runners.