Iran heads to the polls amid voting extension

Remigio Civitarese
Mag 20, 2017

Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani and conservative Ebrahim Raisi, the main rivals in the race, are both confidants of the Islamic establishment but represent different schools of political thoughts.

Rouhani gained a reprieve on Wednesday when the administration of US President Donald Trump agreed to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions, keeping the deal on track for now. Iran's Guardian Council, a 12-member panel half selected by the supreme leader and half nominated by the judiciary and approved by parliament, vetted the candidates and narrowed the field to six, including Mr Rouhani.

Without mentioning his name, Rouhani criticized the policies of Ebrahim Raisi, who is the head of Astan-e Quds Razavi, Iran's largest foundation that is linked to the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, the holiest site in Iran for Shiite Muslims.

The street carnivals of Tehran's night hours over the past few days aimed to cruise the voters to the ballot boxes at 8:00 a.m. local time (0330 GMT) on May 19 to decide on their next president.

CGTN's Tony Cheng reports from Tehran.

Iran's Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was among the first to cast his ballot and urged others to do the same. Although they may be imperfect by Western standards, they are the only means through which the Iranian people can voice their support or criticism of unelected pillars of the deep state.

Some observers of Iran calculate that the West would be better off with a victory by Mr. Raisi, who would likely return Iran to worldwide isolation and fuel domestic discontent. Indeed, even if Rouhani gets another presidential term, it's already clear: "The age of phony smiles between America and Iran is now over", they write.

"I am here with three of my friends, of the same mind, to vote for such values, not merely for nan (bread) and Ab (water), although they are key issues of life as well", Taherkhani said, smiling and standing in the queue outside of the iconic mosque of Tehran, Hosseinieh Ershad, since the early hours when the polls opened.

Voter Mahya Kamalvan, 26, told CNN: "We can not complain if someone else is chosen". In campaign stops and debates, he has struck an increasingly more forceful line against the Revolutionary Guard and hardliners for ballistic missile launches and arbitrary arrests, something he largely avoided doing so far in his time in office. "And then if anything happens the other way, maybe we can say something".

In certain areas in the capital city of Iran, long queues outside the polling stations on Friday morning mark the keynote vote for the country's most celebrated election.

Rohani's supporters are warning that the future of their country is at stake and say they don't want to end up embroiled in conflict like some of their Middle Eastern neighbors.

"Four years was not enough for the things he said he wanted to do", she said.

"When we fight with other countries, when we show an angry face to other countries, our economy will decrease little by little". Raisi would play the same subservient role if he wins.

But Rouhani won't necessarily benefit. The council has never allowed a woman to run for president and routinely rejects candidates calling for dramatic reform, stifling change while ensuring the continuation of Iran's Shiite Islamic governance.

Rouhani asked of both Alamolhoda and Raisi.

Official results, announced by Iran's Ministry of Interior, are not expected until later this weekend. Failure to secure a majority today would send the two top vote-getters into a runoff a week later. The nuclear deal was essentially a bet by the United States that Iran would change over a decade and lose its appetite to pursue nuclear weapons. Since the deal went into effect, Iran has doubled its oil exports and inked multi-billion-dollar aircraft deals with Boeing and Airbus.

Unemployment remains high - although it fell during Rouhani's first term - and growth is middling.

The party has argued and advocated that the only way forward for Iran to achieve transition from theocratic dictatorship to the national democratic stage is by eradicating the absolute political rule of supreme religious leader (Velayat-e Faqih) and its oppressive apparatus - and that this is only possible by the forming of a broad political front of social and political forces that support democratic freedoms, peace, human and democratic rights as well as upholding the country's independence and national sovereignty.

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