Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Markets | By Noel Gibbs

Iran's top leader urges high turnout in presidential vote

Many question whether the Iran nuclear deal that Rouhani oversaw has helped average Iranians.

Now, disappointment over the deal threatens to unseat a president.

Rouhani's rival is cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who has gathered the hardline camp behind him and appears to have the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He has pledged to triple government subsidies, now $12 a month for the poorest Iranians.

This Friday, May 19, Iranians will go to the polls to elect the country's president for the next four years, a decision that will set the tone for Iran's relations with the rest of the world and how its economy and key commodities sector will be managed in the short-to-medium term. 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.

When he was swept to office four years ago with three times as many votes as his nearest challenger, Iranians held high hopes that he could fulfill his promises to reduce the country's isolation overseas and bring more freedoms at home.

"Having an Iranian president publicly endorse provocative military maneuvers could fast track a confrontation that claims the nuclear deal as its casualty", they said.

"The first president, Abolhassan Banisadr, was impeached", the analyst said. "If it's undercut by Iranian rejection of what the deal brought, it will be more hard to anticipate it enduring more than months".

Overall five polling stations would be established in different cities in Pakistan for the 12th Iran presidential election which is to be held on May 19, at the Iranian embassy in Islamabad and four consulates in cities of Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta. The juxtaposition is coincidental, but it conveyed the sense that Washington and Tehran are on a collision course.

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"Raisi has a good chance to win". "If Raisi wins, it makes their case easier to portray Iran as the malign actor in the region".

Many of Rouhani's supporters realize he is not intent on some sort of 'Tehran Spring.' But Maloney says they do see him as the best hope for a more open economy, which in turn will bring political and social change.

Polls, hard to rely on in Iran, offer little guidance.

Raisi's inward-looking economic approach could stimulate domestic steel consumption but at a hefty cost, as the government would need to subsidize Iranian steelmakers.

Rouhani won the 2013 presidential election with almost 51 percent of the vote. But if the leading candidates' votes were to be less than 50 percent, the lead and the runner-up would then go for a second round. Rouhani's (or, rather the Pragmatists') challenge is that the détente pursued with the West, i.e. conceding on nuclear development in return for partial sanctions relief, has not delivered as much economic benefit as hoped for. On paper, the economy is growing, up 6.6 percent in the past year. But most growth came from a post-sanctions revival of oil exports; non-oil growth was less than 1%. Few of the gains have trickled down to ordinary Iranians.

REZA SAYAH: But Iran's economy is still struggling. "The middle class and upper middle class in Tehran have money and want to be left alone to enjoy it".

Raisi is capitalising on this disillusionment by running a populist campaign promising "work and dignity". Suspicions of a rigged vote in 2009 led to street protests that were suppressed, often violently.

Some 300,000 security forces were deployed around the country to safeguard the security of the election. State television has reportedly censored parts of a Rouhani documentary, and some journalists from reform-minded channels that support Rouhani have been arrested or summoned for questioning.

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The three-week campaign has been marked by boundary-pushing politicking among what were originally six candidates. In one memorable debate moment, he criticized the Guard for launching a ballistic missile bearing the words "Israel must be wiped out" in Hebrew. He attacked Raisi for a record of "execution and imprisonment", referring to Raisi's role on a board that sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death.

"We've entered this election to tell those practising violence and extremism that your era is over". Rouhani is clearly emboldened: partly due to his candid personality, and partly due to the fact that significant electoral malfeasance remains extremely costly - but not impossible - for the entire system, as evidenced by chants for Mousavi and Karroubi at Rouhani's campaign rallies across the country.

Rouhani seems to be positioning himself as the anti-establishment candidate who dared to negotiate with the enemy, the United States, to secure the nuclear deal known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.

Many might rightly be cynical that it does not matter who wins the Iranian election.

After being elected by direct public votes, the president introduces 18 ministers to the Iranian parliament (Majlis).

Trump had until Thursday to extend a sanctions waiver on Iran.

Rohani-after playing the chords of "liberties" in a bet to soften criticism on his economic shortcoming- raised the roof of his promises to ethnic minorities in the election season.

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