Saturday, 16 December, 2017

Iran votes in first presidential election since nuclear deal

Kenny Thornton | 19 May, 2017, 18:47

Iranians began voting on Friday in a closely-fought presidential contest between pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani and hardline challenger Ebrahim Raisi that could determine the pace of social and economic reform and Iran's re-engagement with the world.

Long lines had already formed at polling stations around the country.

Iranian voters enter a polling station for the presidential and municipal councils election in Tehran, Iran, Friday, May 19, 2017. He will not confront the leader if elected.

However, while Rouhani might have the support of Iranian people, Raisi shares a close relation with current supreme leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

He added that a high voter turnout "would tend to favour the moderate reformist side of President Rouhani and anything less than 60 percent would spell trouble for him".

Raisi says he will stick by the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, that saw curbs to Iran's atomic programme in exchange for sanctions relief, but he points to the continued economic slump as proof that Rouhani's diplomatic efforts have failed.

The first two candidates are the frontrunners and opinion polls show they have equal chances to secure victory.

The Guards hope that a win for Raisi will give them an opportunity to claw back economic and political power lost in Shia Iran's complex theocratic and republican governing structure since 2015, when Iran struck a nuclear deal with world powers that brought it out of worldwide isolation.

The campaign was replete with caustic televised debates and bruising broadsides.

Rouhani, meanwhile, is essentially running for reelection as an outsider, and is being backed by Iran's reformist camp.

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"I think this has been one of the best elections campaigns we have seen over the past decades", said another supporter. "He will protect our Islamic identity", said Mehran Fardoust, 36, a shop keeper near the Imam Reza Shrine in the holy city of Mashhad, Raisi's home town. He also has received the endorsement of two major clerical organizations that declined to endorse Rouhani in his 2013 campaign. Raisi has said he won't seek to tear up the nuclear deal.

Mr Raisi, a law professor and former prosecutor, has promised to triple cash handouts to the poor. However, his candidacy has revived the controversy surrounding the 1988 mass execution of thousands in Iran.

We will work with those who will come to power in Iran.

However, if no candidate reaches this threshold, a run-off election will be carried out between the two presidential hopefuls who receive the highest number of votes.

"The enthusiastic participation of Iranians in the election reinforces our national power and security", said Rouhani after casting his vote.

Iranian elections are run by the country's Interior Ministry, which oversees the nation's police forces. "The Iranian elections are known for their being influenced by a factor of unpredictability", he said. Iran bars domestic and global observers from the elections, bucking a widely accepted principle around the world that worldwide watchdogs warn can allow for fraud.

Suspicions that the guards and the Basij militia under their control falsified voting results in favour of hardline populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led to eight months of nationwide protests in 2009. Security forces answering only to the supreme leader also routinely arrest dual nationals and foreigners, using them as pawns in global negotiations.

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