Friday, May 19, 2017

Eye on Iran: Iranians Queue Up To Vote In Fiercely-Contested Presidential Election

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Millions of Iranians joined long queues to vote on Friday, an early sign of strong turnout in an unexpectedly tight presidential election that could determine the future of the country's nascent emergence from international isolation. The presidential vote pits incumbent Hassan Rouhani, who wants to normalize ties with the West, against a hardline judge who says Rouhani has gone too far and sold out the values of Iran's Islamic revolution to its enemies. Rouhani, who struck a deal with world powers two years ago to curb Iran's nuclear program in return for the lifting of most economic sanctions, said the election was important "for Iran's future role in the region and the world". "Whoever wins the election, we should help him to fulfill this important and serious duty," state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying after voting.

Millions of voters will head to the polls across Iran Friday to elect the country's next president after a tightly fought race is likely to see internationalist incumbent Hassan Rouhani retain his position. Rouhani staked his political future on opening up Iran 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 religious scholar, a moderate within Iran's political system, has history on his side given that no incumbent President has failed to win re-election since 1981.

Iranians began voting Friday in a high-stakes presidential election that pits a moderate incumbent who has sought closer ties with the West against a hard-liner suspicious of that agenda. The incumbent, Hassan Rouhani, is seeking a second four-year term. His main challenger is Ebrahim Raisi, a cleric who emerged only recently as a serious contender and is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say over most matters of state. The differences in the two campaigns highlight the divide between Iranians' visions for their future. Mr. Rouhani is a technocrat who wants to solve economic problems, including double-digit unemployment, through private-sector growth and stronger global trade links. Mr. Raisi, meanwhile, favors measures including more government handouts to the poor.


US jets have attacked a convoy of Iranian-backed militiamen in south-eastern Syria in the first clash between the American military and forces loyal to Tehran since the US military returned to the region almost three years ago. The airstrikes occurred near the Syrian town of al-Tanf, where Syrian opposition forces backed by the US have been under recent attack by Syrian and Russian jets near the main road linking Damascus to Baghdad. The militias, made up mainly of Iraqi Shia fighters, had been advancing towards the base throughout the week. The US military said the strikes were aimed at stopping the militia advance and protect fighters it has sponsored throughout the civil war and in the fight against the Islamic State terror group.

The Iranian regime is believed to be operating polling stations across the United States ahead of the country's election on Friday, an effort that appears to violate U.S. laws barring Iranian agents from operating on American soil in this manner, according to sources apprised of the situation. There are nearly 50 such polling stations across the United States, including in major American cities such as New York City and Washington, D.C., according to a list of polling stations published online. Iranian polling stations have already been shut down in Canada and calls are mounting for the Trump administration to take similar action, according to a White House petition created by Iranian dissident groups that call on President Donald Trump to "shut down illegal Iranian regime election sites in the U.S."


Iran said on Thursday that new U.S sanctions targeting its ballistic missile programme show Washington's "ill will" and could undermine the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, state television reported. The U.S. Treasury on Wednesday sanctioned two senior Iranian defence officials, an Iranian company, a Chinese man and three Chinese firms for backing ballistic missile development in Iran. Separately, however, Washington also extended wider sanctions relief for Iran called for under the nuclear accord. "Iran condemns America's unacceptable ill will in its effort to undermine the positive outcome of Tehran's commitment to implement the nuclear deal by adding individuals to its list of unilateral and illegal sanctions," state TV quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi as saying.


U.S.-led coalition jets hit a convoy of Syrian and Iranian-backed militias that were heading toward the Tanf base in southern Syria where U.S. special forces are based, a rebel official with a Pentagon-backed rebel group said on Thursday Muzahem al Saloum, from the Maghawir al Thwra group, told Reuters that the jets struck after rebel forces clashed with advancing Syrian and Iranian militias that were about 27 kms away from the base. "We notified the coalition that we were being attacked by the Syrian army and Iranians in this point and the coalition came and destroyed the advancing convoy," Saloum said.


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to persuade President Donald Trump to impose tough new sanctions on Iran for threatening Israel with ballistic missiles and bankrolling terrorism, a close adviser said. The restrictions would aim to inflict damage in the same way that blocking money transfers did before Iran signed the 2015 agreement to curtail its nuclear program, said Michael Oren, a deputy cabinet minister to Netanyahu and his former ambassador to the U.S. The Israeli leader was among the most outspoken opponents of the deal and relishes the prospect of renewed confrontation if Iran violates its terms, he said


Iranians began voting on Friday in a closely-fought presidential contest between pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani and hardline challenger Ebrahim Raisi that could determine the pace of social and economic reform and Iran's re-engagement with the world. State television showed long queues outside polling stations in several cities and said 56 million Iranians out of the more than 80 million population were eligible to vote "Everyone should vote in this important election ... vote at early hours," Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said after casting his vote in the capital Tehran. "The country's fate is determined by the people."

Iranians were headed to the polls Friday to cast their ballots for president in a vote that could either boost ties with the West or return the country to diplomatic isolation. The race pits President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, against conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who is backed by Iran's powerful security establishment. Iran's Guidance Council, a clerical body chaired by the supreme leader, closely vets all candidates. At stake is Rouhani's legacy as the leader who negotiated an end to international sanctions as part of a nuclear deal with world powers. If elected, Raisi has promised to uphold the agreement, but he has criticized Rouhani for the deal's failure to bring major economic gains.

Iranians began voting Friday in a presidential election that will either hand Hassan Rouhani a second term to pursue his engagement with the world economy, or see control of the nation's top elected office lurch back to conservatives whose antagonism to the West left Iran isolated. Polling for 55 million voters started at 8 a.m. after a campaign that became increasingly bitter the longer it went on. Echoing recent elections around the world, it centered on populist claims that ordinary people were being left behind. The race was transformed by the April entry of Ebrahim Raisi, until then an obscure hardline cleric whose background spurred speculation he was being groomed as an eventual successor to Iran's ultimate arbiter, 77-year-old Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The authority in charge of counting ballots in Iran's presidential election has backed down from its initial decision to announce the winner after all votes have been counted. "The Interior Ministry actually agrees that it is more practical to report the vote count gradually," said Assistant Interior Minister Mohammad Hossein Moghimi on May 17, two days before Iranians vote for their next president and local councils. Moghimi explained that according to Article 31 of the Presidential Election Law, the Interior Ministry must announce the "result" of the election and not the "results." "We will confer with the Guardian Council, and after resolving the legal issues, the vote count will be gradually announced to the honorable people of Iran," he added.


IRAN'S PRESIDENTIAL election on Friday is a familiar contest between a relative moderate, the incumbent Hassan Rouhani, and a hard-line conservative backed by the Revolutionary Guard and, it seems, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. It's not correct to say the difference between them is insignificant: Mr. Rouhani, embraced by Iran's educated middle class, favors more relaxed enforcement of Islamic rule at home and engagement with Western investors abroad, while opponent Ebrahim Raisi is a populist who rails against foreign influence and predicts the "Zionist regime of Israel will be "wiped from Jerusalem." From the U.S. point of view, however, it's not clear that there's a side to root for in what will be the 12th presidential election since the 1979 revolution. Both candidates have promised to stick with the 2015 deal that froze Iran's production of enriched uranium and other nuclear activities for about a decade. And both appear committed to Iran's aggressive bid for hegemony in the Middle East by other means, including military interventions in Iraq and Syria, support for rebels in Yemen and harassment of U.S. ships in the Persian Gulf.

On Friday, Iran will elect its next president. More than 1,600 people registered as candidates, but only six were approved by the 12-member Guardian Council, the appointed religious authorities. The front-runners are Ebrahim Raisi, Iran's hard-line former attorney general who now runs the country's holiest site, and Hassan Rouhani, the popular moderate incumbent. Just like in the United States, these quadrennial contests often pit conservatives against progressives, or their theological equivalents. But no matter who wins, one thing is almost certainly true: The president will have a grueling experience working with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The election is only the first, fleeting battle. The next one unfolds slowly, often in secret, and cannot really be won. In every case, it has ended with bitterness, resentment and mutual distrust between the country's two most powerful men.

Iran's presidential vote is now a two-man race. Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf's 11th-hour withdrawal means that incumbent Hassan Rouhani will face the 56-year-old Ebrahim Raisi, a close associate of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and a man who was at the heart of the decision to mass execute political dissidents in the late 1980s. Qalibaf not only withdrew from the race; he endorsed Raisi and is now campaigning on his behalf. The great unknown is how much Qalibaf's populism (he was widely believed to have modeled his campaign on Donald Trump's) will benefit Raisi, a drab figure who has emerged from the darkest corners of the regime to become the consensus candidate of the establishment's hard-line camp despite very limited popular appeal. One possibility is that much of the populist vote behind Qalibaf - which, if his past campaigns are any indication, could be around 15 percent - could move toward Rouhani.

A few months ago, I heard a wise diplomat say that the "Iranian political spectrum is much wider than the reformist or hard-line clergy." His subtle rebuke to the gullible Western media comes to mind now as Iran prepares to stage another Potemkin presidential election on Friday, when voters get to choose between slightly different flavors of hard-line Islam. If he were still alive, Ayatollah Khomeini would have delighted in his regime's ability to disorient foreign observers. By allowing for a few toothless popular branches that would be checked by numerous unelected bodies, Khomeini created an illusion of quasidemocratic legitimacy in what is otherwise a theocratic dictatorship.

Eye on Iran is a periodic news summary from United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) a program of the American Coalition Against Nuclear Iran, Inc., a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Eye on Iran is not intended as a comprehensive media clips summary but rather a selection of media elements with discreet analysis in a PDA friendly format. For more information please email

United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) is a non-partisan, broad-based coalition that is united in a commitment to prevent Iran from fulfilling its ambition to become a regional super-power possessing nuclear weapons.  UANI is an issue-based coalition in which each coalition member will have its own interests as well as the collective goal of advancing an Iran free of nuclear weapons.

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