Iran's presidential election begins as Supreme Leader casts vote

Remigio Civitarese
Mag 19, 2017

A man fills out his ballots to vote in the presidential and municipal council election in Tehran, Iran, Friday, May 19, 2017.

Iranians have begun voting in a closely-fought presidential election that could determine Iran's pace of social and economic reform and its re-engagement with the world.

Whoever wins Friday's vote could help shape the choice of the next supreme leader, and in turn the direction of the country.

At the heart of Iran's complex power-sharing government created after its 1979 Islamic Revolution is the supreme leader, a position now held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He went on to serve as deputy interior minister and police chief.

Voter apathy is a threat to the Islamic regime, which stakes its legitimacy on a high turnout every four years. Iran's president is subordinate to the supreme leader but still powerful with considerable influence over both domestic policy and foreign affairs. Despite the removal of nuclear-related sanctions in 2016, lingering unilateral US sanctions that target Iran's record on human rights and terrorism have kept foreign companies wary of investing in Iran, limiting the economic benefits so far. That accord was done with Khamenei's blessing.

Having proved too independent for the conservative establishment, Ahmadinejad was dramatically barred from standing by the Guardian Council last month as it disqualified all but six of the 1,636 hopefuls who registered.

Rouhani and Raisi are considered the leaders of the race.

The dual actions, announced by the Departments of State and Treasury, appeared meant to signal a tough stance on Iran even as Trump continued predecessor President Barack Obama's pact under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.

Rouhani has come out swinging against hard-liners, including the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which plays an outsized but unelected role in Iranian politics.

A protégé of Khamenei, Raisi focused his campaign on the economy, visiting rural areas and villages, promising housing, jobs and more welfare benefits for the poor.

The presidential race has since narrowed to a two-horse race as other candidates either pulled out or backed Rouhani or Raisi. "Rouhani gave everything to the USA outright" in the nuclear deal.

Raisi, a law professor and former prosecutor who heads an influential religious charitable foundation with vast business holdings, is seen by many as close to Khamenei. But they are anxious to keep out Raisi, who they see as representing the security state at its most fearsome: in the 1980s he was one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death.

Surprisingly, Islam. "Candidates have seemingly concluded that Islamic ideology has lost its power as a driving factor among voters and is therefore not worth addressing", wrote Mehdi Khalaji, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who is Shiite theologian by training. He could pose the biggest challenge to Rouhani, especially if he can unify hard-liners.

Any Iranian 18 or older can vote in Friday's election.

Across Asia, Europe and the Americas, Iranian expatriates cast their ballots in various countries but Canada did not allow Iran to set up polling stations on its territory. They dip one of their index fingers in ink, making a print on the form, while officials stamp their ID so they can't vote twice.

Polls close at 6 p.m. local time, although authorities often extend voting into the evening.

Some 350,000 security forces were deployed around the country to protect the election, state medium reported.

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

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