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Iran's top leader urges high turnout in presidential vote

18 Mai 2017

The Iranian President has virtually no political recourse in a hydra-headed political system.

Outsiders may be justifiably cynical about Iranian democracy, but when Iranians vote in their greatest numbers, they do so for reformist politics.

It seems that either of the leading candidate could win on Friday, and the different outcomes would have different consequences in terms of certain strategic policies, particularly the long term prospects for the nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers.

"The Iranian nation has enemies". Rouhani and Raisi both sit in that assembly. So we need to take notice, welcome a likely win by Hassan Rouhani and take another sigh of relief that populism has been kept at bay, for now. But while the deal helped stabilize Iran's currency, there has been relatively little foreign investment so far.

In a televised speech Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the United States and its allies, including the "pathetic prime minister of the Zionist regime", or Israel, are closely watching the vote.

"To a certain extent, Rouhani's attacks appear to be even harsher" than during the 2013 campaign, said Reza Akbari, an Iran politics researcher at the Institute for War and Peace Reporting.

When the nuclear deal was reached, it was believed Iran could experience as much as five percent growth in gross domestic product in the first 12 months and possible eight percent growth in 18 months.

Of course, while the sanctions were liefted that did not guarantee foreign investment.

Raisi's critics on Iranian social media have dubbed him the "execution ayatollah" because of his dark past: In the 1980s, he was allegedly involved in executing thousands of political prisoners.

All this is a departure from a man known for decades as a loyal member of the Iranian ruling establishment. Defeat in the presidential election could torpedo his chances. Reformist leadership has been vocal in its support for the current president, as have several imprisoned leaders of the 2009 Green Movement and former President Mohammad Khatami.

There have also always been rumors that Israel might strike one of Iran's nuclear facilities, but so far this hasn't happened. The CNN article agrees that he will likely win, but it adds that a major question on Friday will be whether people "still buy his moderate agenda".

How does the election work?

Waiting to vote in Iran's parliamentary election past year, Navid Karimi told me about his plans: to get a well-paid job with his recently acquired engineering degree, go on a road trip in the U.S. and avoid dying fighting in Syria.

She noted that if Rouhani wins reelection, he "would be welcomed by Europeans who desire more business dealings with Tehran and who would likely resist or ignore any US efforts to slap nuclear sanctions back on Iran".

Rouhani says he inherited a financial mess from his populist predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was dramatically barred from standing this year by the Guardian Council after falling foul of the conservative establishment. Reformists and moderates tend to fare better when more voters make it to the polls, and a head-to-head runoff against Raisi is something he will want to avoid. No woman has been approved to run for president.

Presidential candidate President Rouhani who is seeking another mandate and Iranian Supreme Leader protégé Ebrahim Raisi have come head-to-head in fierce debates each riding the wave on freedoms, fighting corruption, resolving dilemmas faced by non-Persian nationalities and the rights of religious minorities.

Since the Islamic Revolution in 1978 and 1979, Iran has been a theocracy, but its political system also includes democratic elements. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a conservative, has held this position since 1989. Many US banks are wary of investing because of the very real possibility that the sanctions could be reimposed at any time. He served as deputy head of the judiciary for ten years, before being appointed prosecutor-general in 2014. Second, the Supreme Leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) control much of the economy, and they continue to block deals that might build the strength of the private sector in Iran.

Still, the Iranian people have no alternative but to boycott the elections and call for genuine regime change.

A girl holds a poster of Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi during a campaign rally in Tehran, Iran, May 17th, 2017.

During his election campaign, Trump had declared that the nuclear deal was the "the worst in history" and that he was determined to "dismantle this disastrous mistake".

Iran's top leader urges high turnout in presidential vote