Polls Open in First Iran Presidential Vote Since Atomic Deal

Girl holds posters of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a campaign rally in Tehran
A girl holds posters of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a campaign rally in Tehran Iran

19 May, 2017

No sitting president has ever been defeated seeking a second term and Rouhani starts a firm favorite, but there is a widespread expectation that Raisi will run him close.

Earlier, two candidates announced pulling out from the race: First, Tehran's hardline mayor Mohammed Baqer Ghalibaf, who pledged his support for Raisi, and then Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, a reformist supporting Rouhani.

That hasn't stopped those at Rowhani rallies from shouting for house arrested leaders of the 2009's Green Movement. This time, she says, Rouhani has one serious opponent: the conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi.

The incumbent, who successfully negotiated a deal with world powers over Iran's nuclear programme, is seeking a mandate for sweeping changes to policies at home and overseas.

The Western partners in the JCPOA, the so-called "Five plus one" (the United States, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union) have been slow to remove the sanctions, mainly because of foot-dragging in Washington - although the U.S. government was quick enough to grant a waiver when Boeing wanted to sign a $16.6 deal to sell 80 passenger aircraft to Iran Air last December.

Rohani's supporters are mostly the young generation, religious and ethnic minorities such as Sunni (Iran has a Shi'a majority by 90 percent), and Kurds and Arabs.

He has also hinted at a wider agenda which would advance human rights and curtail the IRGCs military activity, promising to lift the many remaining sanctions on Iran and asking for a convincing mandate to legitimise a push for greater change.

"This election is about the economy".

No matter who voters are supporting, their number one demand is for the next president to make life more affordable.

Khamenei is now 77; if the moderates are ever going to wrest actual control of government from the conservatives, they need to have as strong a hand as possible going into the battle for the succession. Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.

Raisi has promised his supporters more cash handouts and a redistribution of the country's wealth. His populist posture, anti-corruption rhetoric and get tough reputation are likely to energise conservative rural and working class voters.

In a bid to woo younger voters, he has even turned to appearing in a viral video next to a tattooed, once-underground rapper named Amir Tataloo - despite his own history of supporting the cancellation of concerts on moral grounds.

The other two candidates - Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, a reformer who had previously served as vice president under president Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005); and Mostafa Mirsalim, who served as culture minister between 1994 and 1997, but afterwards turned his back on politics - are not viewed as contenders. As a politician he is largely a blank sheet, but in this election enjoys the complete support of the influential Islamic clergy. He is a leading expert on Iran and United States foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. Khamenei and the IRGC have always preferred a president who does not wield real power, but is held accountable for domestic or foreign policy failures. He will meet with Sunni Arab leaders who are opposed to Iran's backing of Syrian President Bashar Assad and remain skeptical of its regional intentions.

His father-in-law leads Friday prayers in Mashhad and both have seats on the Assembly of Experts that will choose the next supreme leader - a position for which Raisi himself is often rumoured to be in the running.

The Guardian Council is closely monitoring the election and all administrative organizations are well cooperating with the supervisory council, he underlined. He underwent prostate surgery in 2014, prompting speculation about his health. That is nearly a prerequisite since every candidacy must be approved by the Guardian Council of the Revolution, made up of 12 legal consuls and religious scholars. If re-elected, Rouhani will be more than willing to allow Khamenei and the IRGC to continue to run the show.

"The game is very complicated and multi-layered".

For his part, Rouhani, who took over in 2013, says he needs more time to rebuild an economy that had been shattered by years of sanctions and mismanagement.

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