HUGE TURNOUT

Rouhani, hard­line cleric in high stakes presidential poll

New Straits Times - - World -

TEHERAN

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

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