Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Science | By Hubert Green

Iran votes in 1st presidential election since nuclear deal

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.

He also says a hardline victory could put Iran back on a more confrontational, economically damaging course with the West, and would prevent the opening of society that a majority of Iranians, especially the youth, yearn to see.

But Raisi's economic message could win traction with voters who have seen few benefits so far from Rouhani's signature achievement, a deal with world powers to curb Iran's nuclear program in return for lifting financial sanctions. Rouhani faces three challengers, the strongest among them hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56.

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. During the campaign, Rouhani also increasingly has criticized Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, a hard-line paramilitary force answering only to Khamenei, something he so far has been hesitant to do while in office.

Iran's president is subordinate but still powerful, with considerable influence over both domestic policy and foreign affairs.

If Mr Rouhani wins the election he will be keen to uphold the agreement, which has been the defining part of his tenure to date. Raisi has instead promised to triple cash hand-outs to the poor, hoping to pick up voters that once supported Ahmadinejad. Those opposing Rouhani also all said they accepted the nuclear deal, once blasted by hard-liners, making the accord largely a non-issue. His populist posture, anti-corruption rhetoric and get-tough reputation - bolstered by his alleged role condemning inmates to death during Iran's 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners - are likely to energize conservative rural and working-class voters.

After voting, Raisi told journalists that all should "completely surrender to the result of the election".

Other candidates in the fray are: Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, former minister of culture and Islamic guidance Mostafa Mirsalim and former minister of physical education Mostafa Hashemi Taba, as well as President Hassan Rouhani.

Iranians vote Friday for the next president of the Islamic Republic, but how does that elected leader fit into the country's clerically managed government that approves candidates ultimately overseen by its supreme leader?

Hard-liners remain suspicious of America, decades after the 1953 U.S. -engineered coup that toppled Iran's prime minister and the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis in Tehran.

More importantly, US President Donald Trump has shown his dissatisfaction over the nuclear deal brokered by his predecessor Barack Obama. No woman has been approved to run for president. However, the supreme leader has the final say on all state matters and the Guardian Council must approve all laws passed by the parliament.

The race has heated emotions and pushed public discourse in Iran into areas typically untouched in the tightly controlled state media.

There is little chance Raisi will ease social restrictions or release opposition leaders held under house arrest since the 2009 protest movement, known to conservatives as "the sedition". Opposition websites have said Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi both have endorsed Rouhani against Raisi.

Rouhani is a moderate who is backed by Iran's reformist camp.

His supporters streamed into downtown Tehran streets thick with police for rallies that lasted into the early hours Thursday, just ahead of a 24-hour no-campaigning period before the vote.

Polls close at 6 pm (1330 GMT), although authorities often extend voting into the evening.

A poll conducted on May 8 by the Iranian Students Polling Agency gave Rouhani 42 per cent of the vote and Raisi 27 per cent.

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