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Iranians Determine Their Future In Presidential Election Vote

Iranians Determine Their Future In Presidential Election Vote

On May 19, Iranians go to the polls to either re-elect President Hassan Rouhani to a second term or give one of his reactionary opponents a chance to govern, and in doing so ride the populist wave that seems to have engulfed much of the globe.

The Islamic Republic's first presidential election since the 2015 nuclear accord drew surprisingly large numbers of voters to polling stations, with some reporting waiting in line for hours to cast their votes.

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.

President Rouhani's power is vastly outweighed by that of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Rohani, who oversaw a breakthrough nuclear deal with world powers to ease global sanctions, has promised engagement with the West and more freedom for Iranians. Despite the lifting of global sanctions, Iran's growth appears lackluster: its 2017 real gross domestic product probably will grow by just 3.2%, says the worldwide Monetary Fund, down 3.3 percentage points year-on-year.

The president in Iran must be known among men of religion and politics, and also have good experience in management.

Suspicions that the Guards and the Basij militia under their control falsified voting results in favour of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led to eight months of nationwide protests in 2009.

"Rouhani has turned our foreign policies into a mess and damaged our religion", said Sedigheh Davoodabadi, a 59-year-old housewife in Iran's holy city of Qom who voted for Raisi. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor to him, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.

"For me, Mr Rouhani's dialogue with the world and moderation in society are very important", said Zahra, a 32- year-old PhD student in food science. "And then if anything happens the other way, maybe we can say something".

At home, he faces a conservative backlash that condemns his opening to the West and (implicitly) his nuclear deal. Mr Raisi allegedly served on a panel involved in sentencing the prisoners to death. Failure to secure a majority today would send the two top vote-getters into a runoff a week later.

"This is a polarised election - a race between powerful unelected centres of power and the rest of the country", said analyst Hamid Farahvashian.

After being elected by direct public votes, the president introduces 18 ministers to the Iranian parliament (Majlis). Raisi accused Rouhani of "economic elitism, mismanagement, yielding to Western pressure, and corruption". Unemployment remains stuck at more than 12 percent.

Activists inside the country, have braved many risks to spread the message of Iranian opposition leader Maryam Rajavi, especially those connected with the PMOI/MEK. "Now my colleagues can travel to France and the USA", she said.

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.

It's not correct to say the difference between them is insignificant: Mr. Rouhani, embraced by Iran's educated middle class, favors more relaxed enforcement of Islamic rule at home and engagement with Western investors overseas, while opponent Ebrahim Raisi is a populist who rails against foreign influence and predicts the "Zionist regime" of Israel will be "wiped. from Jerusalem".

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.

Supporters of the two leading candidates honked, blared music and held pictures of the hopefuls out of auto 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. "If you want peace, security, and freedom, vote for Rohani", a listener told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.


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