Recent Exits Have Little Effect on Iran's Presidential Election

Recent Exits Have Little Effect on Iran's Presidential Election

As Iran prepares to vote in its twelfth presidential election, Hassan Rouhani, the current incumbent, is facing decisive opposition to his reelection bid.

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.

According to the last poll conducted by Ippo group, Rohani is credited with 60 percent of the vote but Raisi can count on the renouncement of Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, conservative candidate and actual mayor of Teheran to fill the gap and thereby avoid a Rohani victory in the first round.

As Iran's incumbent President Rouhani pledges to reduce the country's worldwide isolation and grant more freedoms at home, his opponent Raisi is a jurist and Shiite cleric who studied at the feet of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rouhani was a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal with the USA, the European Union and other partners.

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

Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi gestures after casting his ballot for the presidential elections at a polling station in southern Tehran on May 19, 2017.

Although Rouhani's main challenger in this election, hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, does not formally reject the deal, his whole campaign is focussed on the fact that the end of foreign economic sanctions did not bring Iranians the rapid economic relief that Rouhani had promised. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor to him, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.

"If Rouhani wins he is going to be interested in improving political relations", says Foad Izadi, professor at the University of Tehran.

Reform-minded supporters recognize that Rouhani isn't ideal - he too, after all, is also a cleric. "I believe that the presidential election is very important. We're not opposed, but do not crowd out other people". "To show what I think without fearing from being in jail or something like that", she said. Iranians living in Oklahoma will also have the chance to vote in Oklahoma City.

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

"Raisi is the enthusiastic candidate of the latter, while Rohani is the default candidate of the former", he said. Authorities barred Ahmadinejad from running in Friday's election, and Khamenei warned this week that anyone fomenting unrest "will definitely be slapped in the face".

Raisi's history may deter some voters - the 56-year-old cleric was a member of the so-called "Death Commission", which presided over the summary executions of thousands of political prisoners in the summer of 1988. If no candidate takes more than 50%, however, a runoff between the top two finishers will be held May 26.

Unemployment, meanwhile, remains stuck in the double digits, with almost a third of Iranian youth out of work, according to the International Monetary Fund. Iran's presidents set the regional, global and diplomatic tone, but that tone is aimed at serving the objectives of the supreme leader and the IRGC.

Lined up in front of the mosque, Mohsen Namazi, 24, a bank clerk spirited by the high turn-out of the voters, constantly leaned back and forth, right and left, to observe the number of people in the queue and their passion for the occasion.

"His defeat would be a double edge sword for his ambition to succeed the current supreme leader: the election would raise his profile and broaden his support-base, but it would be a setback - albeit not a fatal one, as popularity is not the most determining factor for ascending to the pinnacle of power in the Islamic republic", Vaez told RFE/RL via e-mail.

Supporters of the two leading candidates honked, blared music and held pictures of the hopefuls out of vehicle windows on the traffic-clogged and heavily policed streets of Tehran late into the night Thursday, ignoring a ban on campaigning in the final 24 hours before the vote.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast his ballot just minutes after polls opened at 8:00 am (0330 GMT).

"We want freedom of the press", he declared.

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