Iran’s Presidential Election Pits ‘Reformist’ Rouhani Against Hardline Cleric

Supporters of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani chant slogans during a campaign rally in Zanjan on May 16, 2017. Iran's presidential election is effectively a choice between moderate incumbent Rouhani and hardline jurist Ebrahim Raisi

On Friday, Iran will hold its 12th presidential election, where approximately 55 million eligible Iranians will have the opportunity to cast their ballots for either incumbent “reformist” President Hassan Rouhani or hardliner Ebrahim Raisi (also known as Ebrahim Rais os-Sadati), a close friend of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and his understudy.

A total of 1,636 individuals, including nearly 150 women, had previously registered as candidates for Friday’s election. However, the Guardian Council only approved six men, notably rejecting the candidacy of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had initially received approval but was later rejected as a “deviant” for favoring the nuclear deal, which hardliners were against.

Article 115 of the Iranian Constitution outlines the requirements for presidential candidates:

The President of the Republic must be elected from among the religious and political elite who meet the following qualifications: Iranian origin, Iranian nationality, administrative leadership, clear past record, honesty and piety, believing in the fundamentals of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the official religion of the country.

Friday’s presidential election is seen as a referendum on the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Everyday Iranians were hopeful that the lifting of sanctions, and infusion of cash that the deal ushered in, would benefit them directly. However, they have yet to see any benefits from the deeply-flawed and historic deal.

Iran is suffering from a massive unemployment problem. At least 23 percent of Iran’s population cannot find work; that number might actually be higher.

Instead, funds from the nuclear deal have enriched the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and fueled the Iranian government’s continuous training and material support for terrorists throughout the Middle East and Central America.

Iran’s hardliners are backing Raisi. However, Rouhani appears to remain the favorite. Raisi is lesser known than Rouhani, but his past could provide a gateway into the type of leader he would be if elected. In 1984, at the age of 24, Raisi became Iran’s assistant prosecutor; a position that rendered him responsible for the deaths of thousands of activists and dissidents.

Four years later, he was commissioned to serve as one of three members of the infamous “Death Committee,” which ordered the carrying out of executions of nearly 30,000 political prisoners in a matter of months. Many of those executed were members of the Mujahedin-e-Khalq (MEK), an exiled Iranian opposition group.

Raisi is also the head of an organization called Astan Qods Razavi, a wealthy foundation that oversees donations to the shrine of Imam Reza, one of Shia Islam’s holiest sites. The shrine receives over 30 million visitors each year.

Rouhani has served as Ayatollah Khamenei’s representative at the Supreme National Security Council, he has acted as Tehran’s representative in the Council of Experts, and headed the Strategic Research Center of the Expediency Council. During his time as head of the Supreme National Security Council (1989-2005), the group oversaw the executions of over 3,000 people. Under his presidency, Iran has seen more executions than during Ahmadinejad’s presidency.

Polls from this past week show Rouhani exceeding the 50 percent threshold he needs to win. However, the same polls also indicate that nearly 50 percent of registered voters are either undecided or do not have a preference.

This wild card could end up pushing the election in either direction.

Iran’s state-affiliated Press TV reported last week that Raisi “drew a far larger crowd than Rouhani on Sunday.” Both men addressed Iranians in Isfahan:

Hamid, 38, an Iranian who lives and works selling wood supplies in Isfahan, tells Breitbart News he believes the reason for the smaller turnout was confusion. In a Skype interview, the Iranian national told Breitbart that people heard Rouhani was scheduled to speak on Wednesday and suggested that is why he received a smaller turnout. While Hamid is not tied to the Iranian government in any way, his interpretation of what has happened during the Iranian presidential campaign is representative of how average Iranians have experienced the race from the inside.

Both candidates have also made appeals to young voters, hoping to woo them to the polls on Friday. Nearly half of Iran’s population is under the age of 50.

To help sway the youth vote in his direction, Raisi appeared in a video with a popular Iranian rapper Amirhossein Maghsoudloo, who goes by the name Amir “Tataloo:”

“Tataloo has 4 million followers in Iran. A few years ago, he was arrested and imprisoned,” Hamid told Breitbart News. “For his safety, he is required to side with Khamenei’s preferred candidate.”

Asked how his family is voting, Hamid told Breitbart News, “In my household, only my sister will vote. She is voting for Rouhani. The rest of us are not voting.”

The Associated Press also spoke with several Iranians living in the country to get a feel for the sentiment on the ground.

“I have decided not to vote because previous presidents have been unable to fulfill our demands,” Jalal Rajaei, 47, an electrician, told the AP.

Sholeh Talaeipour, 57, a makeup artist, said this election does not matter to her because “When a president’s hands are tied, when a president does not have any power, what should we expect to change? What can be reformed?”

On May 10, Khamenei warned that security was the most important issue in the May 19 election. “If anyone seeks to take measures against the country’s security, they will most definitely receive a slap in the face,” he said. “If people break the law and gain hope through the enemy’s words, the elections will be against our interests.”

The polls open at 8 am. Closing time depends on turnout. “Polls might remain open until midnight or 1 a.m. depending on how many people show up.

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