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Polls open in first Iranian presidential vote since nuclear deal

19 May 2017

There was a festive atmosphere in Tehran where Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric who spearheaded a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, was mobbed by cheering supporters as he cast his ballot in a mosque in the city centre. Although not much has been done to improve women's rights in the past four years, I will vote for him as I respect Khatami, " said 35-year-old Mirzayi. He could face tough competition from hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who is perceived to be close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Raisi is widely seen as Khamenei's preferred candidate - indeed, he is often mentioned as his possible successor. In this vein, Ghalibaf's campaign of the "4 percent" against the "96 percent" (directly borrowed from Occupy Wall Street) and Raisi's ads targeting the poor and destitute in Iran build on these built-in trends in elite Iranian politics and public perceptions.

As an establishment insider, he was intimately familiar with the policymaking process in Iran, where decisions by the elected government and parliament can be undone by the clerical judiciary that has ultimate say. They are due to close at 18:00 (13:30 GMT), however it is very likely that voting be extended as the turnout seems to be high.

More than 56,400,000 eligible voters can cast their ballots in 63,429 polling stations across Iran. "It is rather an expression of widespread and courageous civil disobedience against autocracy ... it is a united conscious move of rejection of the theocratic regime of the supreme religious leadership and for the building of a new Iran free from tyranny". The moderate reformer and his supporters say, let's be patient and move forward. Although Iran's economy, under Rouhani's watch, has experienced modest growth following the lifting of sanctions early previous year, many of his government policies have yet to translate into tangible benefits for millions of ordinary Iranians.

Oil sales have rebounded since the nuclear deal took effect in January 2016, but growth in the rest of the economy has been limited, leaving unemployment at 12.5 percent overall, and nearly 30 percent for young people.

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A poll issued in April suggested that the economy is the key issue for many voters, who are frustrated at the slow pace of economic recovery since the nuclear accord. For the average Iranian, the results have been lackluster. Raisi has made a name for allegedly being involved in the execution of political prisoners in the 1980s. Even European banks are afraid of being fined by the U.S. Treasury if they work with Iran.

Raisi has countered by saying Rohani tries to cover up his failures by creating fear among Iranians. The president has told voters that they face a choice between freedom and "women and men separated by walls". "And then if anything happens the other way, maybe we can say something".

Other candidates in the fray are: Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, former minister of culture and Islamic guidance Mostafa Mirsalim and former minister of physical education Mostafa Hashemi Taba, as well as President Hassan Rouhani.

Iran goes to the polls later today, with incumbent Hassan Rouhani seeking - and expected to get - a second four-year term as president. Directly underneath him is the senior cadre of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Navid Shomali is global secretary of the Tudeh Party of Iran.

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There is also speculation that Raisi could one day succeed the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "I hope we are not forced to leave the country", he said.

"If you want [Iran to become] Syria or Iraq, vote for Raisi".

Rouhani, meanwhile, is essentially running for reelection as an outsider, and is being backed by Iran's reformist camp.

"He is an efficient manager and also because he is mindful of the weak and deprived classes of the society", another Iranian said, "a class that is being crushed under economic problems".

In times like this, now the biggest question will be if the voters do not vote, and those who do are influenced by the promises of money, will Iran stand as a democracy?

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