Saturday, 16 December, 2017

Iranians determine future of reforms in presidential election

Morteza Nikoubazl  Reuters 
    An Iranian man casts his vote during Iran's parliamentary election at a mosque in central Tehran Morteza Nikoubazl Reuters An Iranian man casts his vote during Iran's parliamentary election at a mosque in central Tehran
Kayla Schwartz | 20 May, 2017, 01:11

Tight race in Iran's presidential electionIranians will soon head to the polls to vote for the next president.

Voting began early in the day, with registered voters casting ballots at 63,000 polling centers countrywide.

While the vote may not have a decisive influence on foreign policy, which is set by Khamenei, the election of a hardliner could harm Iran's global image and further deter foreign trade and investment seen as vital to rebuilding the economy.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, symbolically cast the election's first vote.

Running for the presidency are incumbent Hassan Rouhani, hardline cleric and former Attorney-General Ebrahim Raisi, former Vice-President Mostafa Hashemitaba and conservative candidate Mostafa Mir-Salim.

Despite the removal of nuclear-related sanctions in 2016, lingering unilateral USA sanctions that target Iran's record on human rights and terrorism have kept foreign companies wary of investing in Iran, limiting the economic benefits so far.

But he lives large in the minds of many of Iran's young people, its moderates and reformers.

He has also sought substantial support from the reformers who staged mass protests and suffered brutal repression at the hands of the Revolutionary Guard after controversial elections in 2009. Out of around 1,600 people who registered, only six were approved by the Guardian Council, a powerful judicial body which vets all candidates.Mr. Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric close to reformists, oversaw the signing of the landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2015, which eased sanctions in return for efforts to curb the country's nuclear programme. In an informal poll Wednesday, 35% of respondents said they supported Rouhani, with 18% pulling for Raisi.

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Reform-minded supporters recognize that Rouhani isn't flawless - he too, after all, is also a cleric. Raisi's name has also come up as a possible successor to the 77-year-old Khamenei. However, such are the divides in the regime's thinking as the ayatollah ages, that the presidential election has taken on a make-or-break feel.

"We have no other way, but to endear a tolerant space, to accept each other's existence, to live up with diverse opinions and tastes, then to grow up as a descent mother, father or politician for the good of next generation", Taherkhani, the master's graduate of social science from Tehran's Azad Markazi University, argued.

About 55 millions of electors will have the task to elect their new president on May 19, among them 2.5 million are living overseas. "To show what I think without fearing from being in jail or something like that", she said. "Relations between Iran and Turkey will not experience major changes with Rouhan and, in fact, may be even further enhanced not only with Turkey but also with other countries in the region as well...."

Should Raisi win, Iran is expected to retreat from the kind of nascent global engagement seen during Rouhani's first term, with a focus on growing its economy internally rather than looking for direct foreign investment.

Rohani has been blunt in references to the past of Raisi, a former member of the so-called death commissions involved in the summary executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s. According to the rules, if no candidate wins at least 50 percent of the votes plus one, the election enters a second phase: A run-off between the top two candidates. Raisi accused Rouhani of "economic elitism, mismanagement, yielding to Western pressure, and corruption".

An independent poll showed Rohani almost 20 points ahead of Raisi on the eve of the vote, although polling is notoriously unreliable in Iran and many voters reportedly remained undecided. "The numbers are looking better. but the voters aren't feeling it".

Iranian Presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi gestures during a campaign meeting at the Mosala mosque in Tehran, Iran, May 16, 2017. "If you want peace, security, and freedom, vote for Rohani", a listener told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

However, his supporters will be aware that even if reelected, what Rouhani can achieve may be limited by the authority wielded by Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei, and by institutions such as the Revolutionary Guards.

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