Rouhani leads Iran presidential race-interior ministry official

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Iranians head to the polls Friday for a vote that has become a referendum on President Hassan Rouhani’s policy of opening up to the world and efforts to rebuild the stagnant economy.

Election officials extended voting hours at least three times at the more than 63,000 polling places to accommodate the crowds.

Despite the removal of nuclear-related sanctions in 2016, lingering unilateral USA sanctions that target Iran’s record on human rights and terrorism have kept foreign companies wary of investing, limiting the economic benefits so far.

“Whoever wins the election, we should help him to fulfil this important and serious duty”, state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying after voting.

In addition to voting for a president, Iranians are also casting their ballots for city and village councils.

While it’s true that election season in Iran traditionally allows for an expansion of otherwise taboo political discourse, Rouhani has taken it to uncharted waters.

Raisi, a long-serving member of the judiciary who was one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in 1988, gathered the hardline camp behind him after other conservative candidates dropped out of the race.

Rouhani has been campaigning on the platform of an active foreign policy meant to enhance worldwide relations, while Raeisi has vowed a strong economic management towards the elimination of poverty and unemployment, reports Press TV.

Raisi won the support of two major clerical bodies and promised to boost welfare payments to the poor. Some 56 million people are eligible to vote. While the supreme leader has ultimate say over Iran’s state policies, the president still holds considerable influence in government.

Ebrahim Raisi is the leading figure among the opposition candidates; he has been strongly critical of President Rouhani’s failure on the economic front and its effect on poor Iranians. Several said they were voting for Rouhani, praising his work on the nuclear energy deal and for earning the country more worldwide respect. “I feel a chill in my spine imagining he will be president”.

All candidates for elected office must be vetted, a process that excludes anyone calling for radical change, along with most reformists. Both deny the other’s accusations. No woman has been approved to run for president.

In Iran, where political speech is severely curtailed, newspapers and even social media channels are government regulated and protest comes with great personal risk, the quadrennial presidential election is an opportunity to blow off emotional steam, to act politically in the most public, and loud, of ways. Rouhani also found his vehicle besieged by angry coal miners during a visit to a northern mine struck by a deadly explosion earlier this month.

For conservatives, the election represented a chance to restore the values of the 1979 revolution, which requires elected officials to be subordinate to the Shi’ite Muslim clergy and supreme leader. Authorities barred Ahmadinejad from running in Friday’s election, and Khamenei warned this week that anyone fomenting unrest “will definitely be slapped in the face”. “I waited in the line for five hours to cast my vote”.

First Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri and Mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf were other presidential candidates who quitted the presidential race to support their favorite candidates (Rouhani and Raeisi respectively).

For Rouhani, the vote is a fight for his political future and Iran’s political trajectory, Maloney said, and could account for his surprisingly sharp rhetoric during the campaign, such as direct attacks on the Revolutionary Guards, the regime’s elite protection force, and the judicial credentials of Raisi.

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