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Iranians head to the polls in May 19 election as Rouhani seeks second term

Polls opened at 8 a.m. in Iran as voters choose whether to give incumbent president Hassan Rouhani a second term or elect his challenger, Ebrahim Raisi.

Polling stations opened at 8 a.m. in Iran today, May 19, as voters will choose whether to give President Hassan Rouhani a second term in office or elect his challenger, Ebrahim Raisi.

Rouhani has framed the election as a referendum not only on his policies but Iran’s relationship with the west. The incumbent president has been under pressure from conservative critics and those who say the 2015 nuclear deal has not yielded the promised benefits for Iranians.

Polls are set to close at 6 p.m. (13:30 GMT) but will stay open later if necessary to accommodate the nation’s 56 million eligible voters. If no candidate wins a simple majority (50 percent plus 1) of the vote, the top two candidates will go into a runoff.

The candidates

Rouhani and Raisi were two of five candidates approved out of the 1,636 who registered to run in the May 19 election.

Rouhani was elected in 2013 and his administration is made of a mix of moderates and reformist party politicians.

Raisi represents the Islamic Revolution Forces Popular Front (Jebha-ye Mardomi-ye Niruha-ye Enqelab-e Eslami‎), a new umbrella group of Principlists, the country’s mainstream conservatives.

The Guardian Council also approved Rouhani’s Vice President Eshagh Jahangiri; Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf; former culture minister Mostafa Mirsalim; and reformist politician Mostafa Hashemitaba.

Voter turnout was reported to be high in many areas of the capital Tehran on Friday afternoon. Counting begins as soon as the polls close, but the first results aren’t expected until early Saturday.

Ebrahim Raisi

Raisi, who is running for the first time, is a member of the Assembly of Experts (Majles-e Khobregan-e Rahbari‎), the body who will choose Iran’s next Supreme Leader after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

There are some who believe the political hardliner could be in the running himself to replace Khamenei.

Raisi has accused Rouhani of undermining Iran’s interests in the 2015 nuclear deal, for which some see little economic return domestically. Raisi promised to create 6 million jobs in his first term. He said in a presidential debate he represents the labor class and “those who have a lot to say but have no microphone.”

On May 15, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Ghalibaf dropped out of the race to back Raisi. The Guardian noted that Ghalibaf got about 6 million votes in the 2013 presidential election, which Rouhani won with 18.6 million votes. 

Hassan Rouhani

Rouhani ran on a moderate reformist platform in the 2013 election, following Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s two terms that saw Iran become more isolated and less tolerant of dissent. Ahmadinejad’s 2009 re-election was seen by many as fraudulent his announced victory sparked large protests in Iran and around the world.

During Rouhani’s first term, his foreign minister Javad Zarif secured a deal with the “E3+3” or “P5+1” (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany) that saw a rollback of western-imposed sanctions in exchange for assurances that the country’s nuclear program will not be weaponized.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif votes on May 19, 2017. Image: Fars News Agency

Rouhani’s administration has manged to curb economic inflation, which was over 40 percent when he took office, but unemployment remains high – especially for young people who are likely his biggest supporters.

He can also count on supporters of other reformist candidates, if he can get them to turn out. Historically, reformist politicans have won with a higher voter turnout, and Rouhani won only 50.7 percent of the vote in 2013 when turnout topped 70 percent.

Eligible voters among the 5 million Iranians living abroad can vote in about 130 countries, according to the foreign ministry. Despite the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries, Iranians in the United States can vote through the Iran interests section at the embassy of Pakistan.

Ottawa declined to allow Iran to set up polling stations for Iranians in Canada. The two countries are still working to resume diplomatic ties, which were cut in 2012.




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