Rouhani, hardline cleric in high stakes presidential poll
IMICHEL TEMER, president of Brazil
RANIANS poured into polling stations yesterday to deliver their verdict on President Hassan Rouhani and his troubled efforts to rebuild ties with the world and kick-start the struggling economy.
There was a festive atmosphere here where Rouhani, a 68year-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.
“The enthusiastic participation of Iranians in the election reinforces our national power and security,” he said, as polling stations reported queues were far bigger than in last year’s parliamentary election.
Rouhani has sought to frame the vote as a choice between greater civil liberties and “extremism”. But he faces stiff competition from hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who has positioned himself as a defender of the poor and called for a much tougher line with the West.
“We must all respect the vote of the people,” Raisi said as he cast his ballot in southern part of the city.
He has targeted working-class voters hit by high unemployment and subsidy cuts, as well as those who worry the values of the 1979 revolution are under threat.
“His main focus is deprived people and he wants to fight corruption,” said Mohsen, a 32-yearold Raisi supporter.
“Rouhani did a lot of work that I praise him for, but we cannot rely on foreigners. Our country is surrounded by enemies.
“If we don’t strengthen our domestic situation, we will be harmed.”
Rouhani’s central achievement was a deal with six powers led by the United States that eased crippling economic sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s nuclear programme.
Raisi said he would stick by the nuclear deal, but points to a persistent economic slump as evidence Rouhani’s diplomatic efforts had failed.
“Instead of using the capable hands of our young people to resolve problems, they are putting our economy in the hands of foreigners,” Raisi said at a closing campaign rally in the city of Mashhad on Wednesday.
Rouhani said hardliners must be kept away from Iran’s diplomatic levers at a delicate moment in relations with the US.
“One wrong decision by the president can mean war,” he warned this week.
Long queues formed at polling stations around the country after a short but gripping campaign that captivated the nation of 80 million.
The economy has dominated the campaign. Rouhani has brought inflation down from around 40 per cent when he took office in 2013, but prices are still rising by nine per cent a year.
Oil sales have rebounded, but growth in the rest of the economy has been limited, leaving unemployment at 12.5 per cent overall, and almost 30 per cent for young people.
Raisi has promised to triple cash handouts to the poor.
Polls close at 6pm, although authorities often extend voting hours.
Final results are expected within 24 hours of polls closing. Agencies
SATURDAY, MAY 20, 2017
Female voters queuing at a polling station in the city of Qom, Iran, yesterday. AP PIC