Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Polls open in first Iran presidential vote since atomic deal

Polls opened in Iran on Friday with voters set to give their verdict on President Hassan Rouhani's policy of opening up to the world and efforts to rebuild the stagnant economy.

But Iranian elections can be unpredictable - Rouhani himself was polling in single digits two weeks prior to the 2013 vote, before surging ahead and winning in a landslide after leading reformers called on their constituents to back him. On the last day of campaigning, candidates were out trying to rally support.

The 56-year-old Raisi is said to be trusted by the country's most senior figure, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as the holder of ultimate political, military, and religious power in Iran can easily derail a campaign or thwart the plans of a president.

No matter who voters are supporting, their number one demand is for the next president to make life more affordable. He served as culture minister for four years under Rafsanjani. "Our country is surrounded by enemies - if we don't strengthen our domestic situation, we will be harmed".

Rouhani in particular was at the intellectual forefront of Iran's move to the economic right as head of the Center for Strategic Research, and he has espoused a critical view on minimum wages and labor unions, while general state policy under his administration has been to promote economic development through foreign direct investment rather than state-oriented pro-growth economic policies and government interventionism. "The country's fate is determined by the people", he added.

Iranian elections are run by the country's Interior Ministry, which oversees the nation's police forces.

"One wrong decision by the president can mean war and a correct decision can mean peace", he said at his own Mashhad rally.

Despite the removal of nuclear-related sanctions in 2016, lingering unilateral US 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.

Iran's constitutional structure is unique; it is basically a theocracy with some of the trappings of a presidential democracy.

The election of the president is important in the Islamic republic and the people should take note of this point, Khamenei said in a live TV broadcast.

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Rouhani has said that if he remains in power, he will harness the talent of Iran's youth and form a cabinet comprised of younger members.

He promised to achieve the aims sought by reformists, but without crossing the lines that would provoke a hardline backlash, and heal wounds of the previous presidential election, when mass reformist protests were violently crushed after the disputed the re-election of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. It was hard to get lab equipment and very difficult to get visas to study overseas. "I say we will create a tall wall to [counter] the plunderers of the rights of the people".

Despite the global implications, it is the economy that has dominated the campaign. In particular, Rouhani's signature achievement, the nuclear deal with the west, has been the subject of grumbling but not actual sabotage from Khamenei and his allies.

"I've nearly lost my entire business in recent years".

Out of the total eligible voters over 1.3 million are those who vote for the first time. For example, today I read a poll, according to which Rouhani leads with 46%, but I also saw some polls saying he leads with 60%.

"I am young, and I want to live in a more free country".

Analysts have rejected Raisi's promises of jobs and cash handouts as unrealistic but admit these could win traction with voters who have felt few benefits so far from the nuclear deal.

Six presidential candidates were approved by the Guardian Council, an influential clerical body controlled by conservatives, but two of them dropped out earlier this week.

The Tudeh Party of Iran's assessment is that with each stage-managed election the theocratic regime's avenues of recourse, with regard to its growing internal and external crises, are becoming more limited and its inherent contradictions more pronounced - with the Iranian people no longer able to be placated through a process of choosing between different types of president all ultimately subservient to a reviled dictatorship.

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