Wednesday, 23 May, 2018

Voting, governance and clerical power in Iran

Frank Williams | 19 May, 2017, 18:07

The former, current President Hassan Rouhani, urged Iran's powerful elite Revolutionary Guards not to meddle in the election. The contest is largely seen as a referendum on the incumbent president's more moderate political stance, which helped pave the way for the country's nuclear deal with world powers.

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.

But analysts agreed the gathering of Khamenei's powerful allies behind Raisi seemed to have the unintended effect of energising Rouhani's supporters, uniting opposition and pro-reform figures, artists and activists to back his re-election. Rouhani faces three challengers, the strongest among them hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56.

Hundreds of thousands of Iranian people went to polling stations in the early hours of Friday, with reports of long queues at many polling stations across the country in early hours.

He has targeted working-class voters hit by high unemployment and subsidy cuts, as well as those who worry the values of the 1979 revolution are under threat.

However, the nuclear deal has never looked more fragile than it does right now. "Our country is surrounded by enemies - if we don't strengthen our domestic situation, we will be harmed".

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani staked his political future on opening Iran ever so slightly to the outside world and overcoming hard-liners' opposition to secure a historic nuclear deal in exchange for relief from crippling sanctions.

The Trump administration has signaled that it would continue the Iran nuclear deal made under the Barack Obama administration for the meantime as the still forming a new comprehensive Iran policy. "The country's fate is determined by the people".

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

U.S. slaps sanctions on Venezuela Supreme Court judges
Among those sanctioned is Maikel Jose Moreno Perez, president of the Supreme Court. The high court is dominated by loyalists of President Nicolas Maduro.

The Supreme Leader - now an ultra-conservative cleric named Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - helps appoint the Guardian Council, an unelected panel of conservatives that decides who gets to run for president (and who doesn't).

Polling stations across Iran opened on Friday morning for the elections. In a rare interview this month with Al Arabiya, bin Salman said that there is "no room for dialogue with Iran", condemning the Shia nation for its intentions to "conquer the Islamic world" and "spreading its extremist ideologies".

Under Rouhani's predecessor, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "the sanctions really hurt us". It was hard to get lab equipment and very difficult to get visas to study overseas.

Khamenei has long touted the benefits of a so-called "resistance economy" that flouts the global marketplace as well as the worldwide community.

Rouhani has brought inflation down from around 40 percent when he took office in 2013, but prices are still rising by nine percent a year.

It is a message that has fallen on fertile ground at a time when unemployment is at least 12.5 percent and nearly everyone is feeling the stagnation of the economy.

Rouhani has vowed to work towards the removal of remaining U.S. sanctions that are stifling trade and investment deals with Europe and Asia, but he is unlikely to receive much assistance from Trump. "Our small importers can't afford to bypass sanctions and it's illegal", said first-time voter Amir Fathollahzadeh, 51. "Whoever threatens the country's national security values will be slapped", said Khamenei. Raisi also has promised monthly cash payments to the poor, a populist move that's been popular with Iranian voters in the past.

If Rouhani wasn't to win the presidency, it is not expected much would change in Iran's relationships with both regional and global powers, as the Supreme Leader does maintain more control.

"A sanctions snap-back could not only deter foreign investment in the Iranian energy sector but could also curtail the country's ability to sell its barrels overseas", Croft said.


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