Iran votes in head-to-head between diplomacy and resistance

19 May, 2017, 17:36 | Author: Valerie Burke

Es'haq Jahangiri, the Iranian first vice president and a candidate in the country's 12th presidential election, has dropped out of the race to back moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

Iranians vote for president on Friday in a contest likely to determine whether Tehran's re-engagement with the world stalls or quickens, although whatever the outcome no change is expected to its revolutionary system of conservative clerical rule.

On Monday, Tehran's conservative Mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, also said that he withdrew from the presidential race to back another conservative candidate, Ebrahim Raisi. This is not accidental: Economic issues are by far the top concern among Iranian voters, and survey results have shown that Iranians are disappointed with Rouhani's ability to turn the economy around after signing the nuclear deal.

Rouhani's opposing hardline candidates both have decidedly more blotted reputations.

The nuclear deal between Iran and the six world powers ended a decadeslong crisis that removed sanctions on almost 80 million Iranians and potentially averted another military confrontation in the Middle East involving the United States. He is a cleric who represents the moderate or reform wing of Iranian politics.

The main challenger Raisi is a close ally and protege of Khamenei, and was one of four Islamic judges who ordered the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988. Mr. Ghalibaf has now stepped aside ahead of Friday's vote "to ensure unity in the pro-revolution front" and thrown his weight behind Mr. Raisi.

A Raisi victory could put Iran on a more confrontational course with the West - and in particular President Donald Trump, who visits Iran's chief regional rival, Saudi Arabia, this week.

"There's nothing that....brings out young, liberal voters like a hard-line conservative, which Raisi is", Kupchan said.

"Iranian ethnic and religious groups are an inseparable part of the country's history and land", Raisi said in an interview with the Tasnim News Agency. "It's the Tehran vote that Rouhani has got to get out and Raisi running will help him do that". Ghalibaf has lost twice in previous elections, first to Ahmadinejad in 2005 and then to Rouhani in 2013.

But she eventually chose to vote for Rouhani, she said, because former president Mohammad Khatami, spiritual leader of the pro-reform movement, had publicly backed him. For example, after a recent coal mine blast which killed 42 workers, miners attacked Rouhani's vehicle when he visited the site.

Raisi's candidacy has fueled speculation he is being lined up to succeed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 77.

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