Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Global News | By Stacy Ballard

Newsmaker - In tight Iran race, outspoken Rouhani breaks political taboos

Newsmaker - In tight Iran race, outspoken Rouhani breaks political taboos

Raisi's challenge was boosted Monday by the withdrawal from the election contest of another Principilist, Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf, a retired general and now the mayor of Iran's capital, Tehran.

The rallies were largely peaceful even as Rouhani supporters faced off against smaller crowds supporting his main rival, hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, though police rushed reinforcements to break up Rouhani rallies that grew large enough to block traffic. He is seen by many as close to Khamenei, and has even been talked about as a possible successor to him. Raisi has appealed to poorer voters by pledging to create millions of jobs.

Many reformist voters say they are disillusioned, an apathy Rouhani's allies see as the biggest threat to his re-election.

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Although the supreme leader is officially above the fray of everyday politics, Khamenei can sway a presidential vote by giving a candidate his quiet endorsement, a move that could galvanise hardline efforts to get the conservative vote out. While a Raisi win "could usher in a more confrontational approach to domestic and regional policies", she warns.

Raisi is a mid-ranking figure in the hierarchy of Iran's Shi'ite Muslim clergy but has been a senior official for decades in the judiciary which enforces clerical control of the country.

"Elections are going to be held in two days in a country with an 80-million population where the nation is getting ready for a passionate and enthusiastic turnout, but peace is preserved everywhere", Ayatollah Khamenei said, while highlighting the significance of this peaceful atmosphere in an otherwise turbulent region.

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During his election campaign, the republic had said that he would abandon the nuclear deal, although the White House renewed sanctions relief for Iran this week. "Therefore they will try to weaken them and make them look feeble in front of their voters by doing things which the winning camp has stood against". "The result depends on whether the economic problems will prevail over freedom issues", said an official close to Rouhani.

Turnout will be key - no more so than for Rouhani. Rouhani also used campaign speeches to link this election to the one that gave birth to the reform movement when Iranians elected Khatami in 1997.

Rouhani, a moderate reformist, and Raeisi, the guard of the sanctuary of Imam Reza and a conservative or principled (he follows the foundational postulates of the 1979 Islamic Revolution), are the candidates with more possibilities to win the majority of votes. "I will dedicate all my abilities to support Rouhani" in Friday's election, Jahangiri said in a statement. "I had decided not to vote. As long as Khamenei runs policy, nothing will change", said art student Raika Mostashari in Tehran. Activists for the banned dissident organization have reportedly risked arrest and torture by posting images of the exiled PMOI leader Mayram Rajavi in public places, along with slogans decrying both of the leading mainstream candidates and announcing a "vote for regime change". President Donald Trump has said he's reviewing the deal's future.

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Rouhani has vowed to work towards removing the remaining non-nuclear sanctions, but Hamed Mousavi, a professor at the University of Tehran, told Al Jazeera that the Trump presidency has made that promise unlikely. Iran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons and Ghasemi said its missile programme is part of its "absolute and legal right to build up the country's defensive capabilities". If Rouhani wasn't to win the presidency, it is not expected much would change in Iran's relationships with both regional and global powers, as the Supreme Leader does maintain more control. Ayatollah Khamenei added that the judgment of the two groups would be premised on the people's turnout on elections day.

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