Campaigning ends ahead of Iran's presidential vote

Cornelia Mascio
Mag 19, 2017

There are five candidates in the running, but only two are seen as viable contenders.

In this picture taken on Wednesday, May 17, 2017, supporters of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani cheer while holding his posters during a street campaign ahead the May 19 presidential election in downtown Tehran, Iran. His campaigning has been more effective because he has got more money behind him.

As he spoke, more than 10,000 supporters - many of them women, many of them middle class - chanted slogans demanding the release from house arrest of leading opposition figures.

In effect, this makes it a race between two strong candidates, incumbent President Rouhani and Ebrahim Raisi.

He has been here before.

Often mentioned as a possible successor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as Supreme Leader, Raisi appears to have the backing of the clerical establishment. Iran condemns new United States missile sanctions: spokesmanIran criticised new USA sanctions on its missile program on May 18, saying they would undermine the nuclear deal with world powers.

Rouhani saw relief from sanctions as essential to liberating the country's economy. Up to a point it has worked. The Iranian economy grew by about 7% past year, according to the International Monetary Fund. But most growth came from a post-sanctions revival of oil exports; non-oil growth was less than 1%. However, rival conservatives who might have split the anti-Rouhani vote have stepped aside to give Raisi a clear shot under pressure from allies of the supreme leader.

Smearing Rouhani as a corrupt and "pro-capitalist" elite also parallels 2005, when Ahmadinejad was able to successfully link corruption with economic mismanagement and popular disdain of ruling reformist-moderate politicians, particularly Rafsanjani. Elsewhere, the parliament is entitled to question any of the government ministers or even impeach and remove the president himself.

The country's treasury is at the president's disposal and it is he who draws and submits the country's budget bill to the parliament.

Rouhani has asked for patience and promised to work towards eliminating the onerous sanctions that are still in place.

Rohani has been blunt in references to the past of Raisi, a former member of the so-called death commissions involved in the summary executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s. His performance in the televised debates was extremely poor.

It might sound like the Islamic Republic is coming apart at the seams.

If this rhetoric sounds familiar, it's because it is.

Rouhani is good at co-opting the message of greater social and political freedom on the campaign trail, according to Suzanne Maloney at Brookings.

Rouhani admitted as much at his Tehran rally.

But don't expect open confrontation. "Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, a former principalist, and Ali-Akbar Nategh-Nouri, a close confidant of Khamenei, have placed their weight behind Rouhani", Alavi writes.

Raisi's representatives have denied that Khamenei told himto run. In 2003, he became Khamenei's troubleshooter on the nuclear program.

Iranians vote in a four-man presidential race on May 19 that could reinvigorate efforts for an economic and diplomatic thaw with the West or draw the curtain on a four-year interlude in hard-line domination at all levels of government.

For his part, Khamenei did not stand in the way of the 2015 nuclear agreement. He said this month that "some say since they [i.e. Rouhani] took office, the shadow of war has faded. This is not correct".

While the Iranian Supreme Leader holds the final word on all foreign policy decisions, the president still has influence in framing narratives and serving as the face of the nation internationally.

European sanctions offer some maneuvering in Iran, though financial transactions are complicated by remaining USA sanctions. But regardless of who wins, moderate or hard-liner, do not expect any fundamental changes in Iran's domestic or foreign policy. But big Western banks and investors have largely stayed out of Tehran, in part because of lingering US sanctions. That leaves banks and many big corporations wary of doing business with Iran. Rouhani wants more time to fix the economy.

He has spent a lot of time working on alternatives to western investment, such as a closer relationship with Russian Federation.

HASSAN ROUHANI, President of Iran (through interpreter): Have them tell you what they have done for the past 38 years. But his room for maneuver will remain limited.

"No matter who's the next president, whoever comes to power should bring a better economy", hair stylist Reza Ghavidel said.

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