TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani staked his political future on opening Iran ever so slightly to the outside world and overcoming hard-liners’ opposition to secure a historic nuclear deal in exchange for relief from crippling sanctions.
He’ll soon find out if voters think it’s enough to keep him in the job.
The 68-year-old cleric, a moderate within Iran’s political system, has history on his side as Iranians vote for president today. No incumbent president has failed to win re-election since 1981, when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the current supreme leader and most powerful man in Iran, became president himself.
Political analysts and the scant polling data that’s available suggest Rouhani will come out on top among the four candidates left running, though an outright win is by no means assured. Failure to secure a majority today would send the two top vote-getters into a runoff a week later.
His supporters streamed into downtown Tehran streets thick with police for rallies that lasted into the early hours yesterday, just ahead of a 24-hour no-campaigning period before the vote. Wearing Rouhani’s signature purple on ribbons and loosely draped headscarves, they honked, cheered and chanted slogans in support of Mir Hossein Mousavi, one of two Iranian opposition leaders under house arrest since 2011 who back Rouhani.
The rallies were largely peaceful even as Rouhani supporters faced off against smaller crowds supporting his main rival, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, though police rushed reinforcements to break up Rouhani rallies that grew large enough to block traffic.
Working against Rouhani is a sense among many Iranians that the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran accept limits on its atomic energy programme, has failed to deliver an economic windfall.
“No matter who’s the next president, whoever comes to power should bring a better economy,” hairstylist Reza Ghavidel said.
Although nuclear-related sanctions were lifted because of the deal, other US and other international sanctions remain in effect. That leaves banks and many big corporations wary of doing business with Iran.
Unemployment, meanwhile, remains stuck in the double digits, with nearly a third of Iranian youth out of work, according to the International Monetary Fund.
“This election is about the economy. I don’t think most voters are thinking about the soul of the nation right now,” said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group. “The numbers are looking better… but the voters aren’t feeling it.”