As Iran goes to the polls for the presidential election and the state of the economy emerges as the main issue in the campaign, President Hassan Rouhani would require a high turnout of voters to be re-elected for a second term on 19 May.
The conservatives have mounted a strong challenge to President Rouhani by focusing on the sluggish Iranian economy and the high rate of unemployment. The Iranian leader had chalked up a major achievement with the historic six-nation agreement in 2015 that ends Iran’s international isolation and the crippling economic sanctions. Under the agreement, economic sanctions were lifted as Iran agreed to restrict its nuclear programme. Though there was enormous euphoria when the nuclear deal was concluded, it has not given the much-anticipated boost to the economy. The failure to revive the economy and generate jobs has led to dissatisfaction among the people.
The hard-liners in Iran contend that Rouhani gave up the country’s nuclear programme without getting anything in return. In 2013, Rouhani had won the presidential election on the promise of ending Iran’s international isolation and the polarisation of the Ahmedinejad regime. But the sluggish economy has dimmed the sheen of the nuclear agreement and most young Iranians complain that there are no visible benefits of the deal.
What would be a greater cause of worry for Rouhani on polling day are the indications given by pre-poll surveys that there is a sense of apathy among voters. Traditionally in Iranian elections, the conservative strongholds show high voter turnout than the urban, moderate voters. As President Rouhani banks on support of the youth and the reformers, his opponents have been promising to create more jobs and offering larger cash handouts and other sops in their campaign speeches.
President Rouhani faces five opponents; Ebrahim Raisi, a cleric known to be close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, mayor of Tehran Mohammad Badher Qalibaf, Senior Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, former minister Mostafa Mirsalim and a former vice president Mostafa Hashemitaba. Candidates filing their nominations for the presidential election are vetted by the Guardians Council, which cut down the number of candidates to six and dropped former president Ahmedinejad. Ahmedinejad had sent ripples through the elections scene by announcing his candidature. He refused to heed Ayatollah Khamenei’s indication that he should step down but was eventually ruled out by the Guardians Council. Ahmedinejad had a controversial tenure when he raised the levels of rhetoric against the US. His candidature would have split the conservative vote in the election.
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. Raisi is seen as an influential figure since he was appointed by the Supreme Leader last year as the custodian of Imam Reza Shrine in Meshed, a powerful religious foundation with enormous resources. He is rumoured to be a possible successor to the Ayatollah Khamenei.
Qalibaf and Mirsalim are well-known conservatives, while Qalibag is the mayor of Tehran, a pilot and a controversial former police commander who is promising to create jobs. He succeeded Ahmedinejad as Teheran’s mayor when Ahmedinejad stepped down to contest his first presidential election in 2005. He had been a candidate in the 2013 presidential candidate and has criticised the government’s economic policies. Jahangir and Hashemitaba are from the reformers camp. The reformists had suffered a blow earlier this year with the death of influential moderate leader, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani.
There are no women candidates in the presidential election, though 137 women had sought to enter their names. But the Guardian Council disqualified all of them. As women, who form just less than 50 percent of the electorate, have their impact on voting day all presidential candidates try to reach out to them during their campaigns. While public attention has been focused on the presidential poll, elections to local bodies are also being held on the same day as the presidential election. Women have a greater role in the elections to the city and village councils, both as candidates and in the election campaigns.
In 2013, there had been a last minute swing in Rouhani’s favour, who had been viewed as a moderate among the conservatives, rather than a reformer. Ayatollah Rafsanajni and former president Mohammad Khatami, backing had boosted his credentials. Rouhani himself had wooed many voters by his promises on foreign and domestic policies, including promises to expand social and civil liberties. His failure to deliver on his assurances has led to a general dissatisfaction among the reformers. The American policies towards Iran under US President Donald Trump have added to the impression that the nuclear deal did not achieve all that it promised.
President Rouhani is the front-runner in the elections but the absence of economic gains from the nuclear deal has provided room for two conservative candidates, Raisi and Qalibaf to attack his economic policies. In the heated presidential campaign debates, they have attacked the government saying that the country was facing an economic crisis, with soaring unemployment, recession and inflation. The Supreme Leader remains a powerful influence in Iranian politics but the presidential election is likely to be decided by the floating voter just before polling day on 19 May.
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Updated Date: May 20, 2017 09:27:14 IST