Thursday, 29 June, 2017

Polls open in first Iranian presidential vote since nuclear deal

Freda Brock | 19 May, 2017, 18:59

According to reports, over 56 million of Iranians are eligible to go to the polls.

Leader of the Islamic Revolution Imam Sayyed Ali Khamenei cast a ballot in Iran's presidential election on Friday morning as soon as the voting kicked off, calling on all Iranians to take part in the "very important" elections with awareness.

Polls close at 13:30GMT, although authorities often extend voting into the evening. Exit polls are expected on Saturday.

Besides picking a president, Iranians are also voting to choose members of the country's City and Village Councils.

Iranians poured into polling stations on Friday to give their verdict on President Hassan Rouhani and his troubled efforts to rebuild ties with the world and kick-start the struggling economy.

Having been elected in a landslide four years ago on a promise to reduce the country's worldwide isolation, Rouhani negotiated a historic deal with world powers in 2015 to curb Iran's nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief. Rouhani faces three challengers, the strongest among them hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56.

Iranian women cast their ballots for the presidential elections at a polling station at the Lorzadeh mosque in southern Tehran on May 19, 2017.

There was a festive atmosphere in Tehran where Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric who spearheaded a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, was mobbed by cheering supporters as he cast his ballot in a mosque in the city centre.

The Guards hope that a win for Raisi will give them an opportunity to claw back economic and political power lost in Shi'ite 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.

"Instead of using the capable hands of our youths to resolve problems, they are putting our economy in the hands of foreigners", Raisi said at a final rally in the city of Mashhad on Wednesday.

As Iran is set to elect its new president, its diplomatic relations with several major economies such as the United States and European Union will be affected depending on who becomes the leader of the nation.

"One wrong decision by the president can mean war", he warned this week.

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Under Iran's system, the president is subordinate only to the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state. "Now my colleagues can travel to France and the USA", she said.

Rouhani gained a reprieve on Wednesday when Washington agreed to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions, keeping the deal on track for now.

Trump will be in Saudi Arabia, Iran's regional rival, as votes are tallied.

He has promised to work towards getting the remaining USA sanctions removed - but for this he relies on the cooperation of Mr Trump.

Despite the global implications, it is the economy that has dominated the campaign.

Inflation has come down from around 40% since Mr Rouhani took over in 2013 but unemployment is still at 12.5%.

Raisi has promised to triple cash handouts to the poor, hoping to pick up voters that once supported Ahmadinejad.

"[Raisi] is thinking about the people, simple people; he's thinking about poor people", one of his supporters told Al Jazeera.

Two other conservative candidates are still officially in the race.

Unemployment, meanwhile, remains stuck in the double digits, with almost a third of Iranian youth out of work, according to the International Monetary Fund.

"Rouhani did a lot of work that I praise him for, but we can not rely on foreigners".

FILE - In this Thursday, April 13, 2017 file photo, former Iranian pro-reform Vice President Mostafa Hashemitaba, right, a candidate for the May 19 presidential elections attends at the Interior Ministry to register his candidacy in Tehran, Iran.

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