On Election Day, Iran Chooses Between Gradual Reform And Conservative Return

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts a vote in elections

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts a vote in elections

The Islamic Republic of Iran goes to the polls today, to elect its 12th presidential election.

Although Twitter is officially banned in Iran, the candidates are using it, and also the messaging app, Telegram, which has over 20 million users in Iran.

The Guards hope that a win for Raisi will give them an opportunity to claw back economic and political power lost in Shi'ite Iran's complex theocratic and republican governing structure since 2015, when Iran struck a nuclear deal with world powers that brought it out of worldwide isolation. He called for a large turnout, saying "the country is in the hands of all people".

In addition, as nearly all the political oppositions had been wiped out since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, even if they have differences in their programs, the presidential candidates are all different branches of the same tree. Out of around 1,600 people who registered, only six were approved by the Guardian Council, a powerful judicial body which vets all candidates.Mr. Rouhani, a relatively moderate cleric close to reformists, oversaw the signing of the landmark Iran nuclear deal in 2015, which eased sanctions in return for efforts to curb the country's nuclear programme.

After casting his ballot, Rouhani said whomever the voters elect as president should receive all of the nation's support. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.

For many in Iran, especially in affluent areas of the capital, Tehran, Rouhani has provided a glimpse of what many have long desired - engagement with the outside world, without the types of banking and visa restrictions, as well as economic sanctions - that left them feeling so isolated.

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.

In the last election, Rouhani won more than three times as many votes as his closest challenger. "And then if anything happens the other way, maybe we can say something".

Speaking on May 8, Rohani said voters did not want someone who in the four decades since Iran's 1979 revolution has only known how to "execute and jail", adding that the era of extremists is over. It would also mean that the West has a negotiating partner that wants to bring Iran back in from the diplomatic cold and become a responsible member of the worldwide community.

Should Raisi win, Iran is expected to retreat from the kind of nascent worldwide engagement seen during Rouhani's first term, with a focus on growing its economy internally rather than looking for direct foreign investment. Raisi allegedly served on a panel involved in sentencing the prisoners to death. Mr Raisi has said he will not seek to tear up the nuclear deal. If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two, presumably Rouhani and Raisi, would face each other a second time in a run-off in a week. But if he loses the election by a wide margin, that path is less likely, as his backers would struggle to justify his ascension to absolute power when voters didn't even want him to be president. Raisi is also the custodian of the Imam Reza shrine in Mashad, the most visited and important holy site in Iran, and has strong base of support among rural, religious, poor and hardline clerics.

For voter Hassan Rahmani, 34, in northern Tehran, maintaining good relations is key to Iran's future. Iran's president is subordinate to the supreme leader but still powerful with considerable influence over both domestic policy and foreign affairs. "We want to say to all the world, we love our country and we want it to be free", said Daryafarghi.

Supporters of the two leading candidates honked, blared music and held pictures of the hopefuls out of vehicle windows on the traffic-clogged and heavily policed streets of Tehran late into the night Thursday, ignoring a ban on campaigning in the final 24 hours before the vote.

That would be Ayatollah Khamenei, Iran's so-called Supreme Leader. "If you want peace, security, and freedom, vote for Rohani", a listener told RFE/RL's Radio Farda.

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