Posts Tagged ‘Iran’s presidential election’

Rouhani on Pace to Win Re-election in Iran — Influence of security hardliners in Iran’s hybrid clerical-republican system may stop his planned reforms

May 20, 2017



By Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh | DUBAI/BEIRUT

President Hassan Rouhani has taken an unbeatable lead in Iran’s presidential election, an Iranian official source told Reuters on Saturday, citing an early unofficial tally, and is set to hand an emphatic defeat to his hardline rival Ebrahim Raisi.

In a briefing for reporters, interior ministry official Ali Asghar Ahmadi outlined a similar proportion of votes, which if confirmed would give the pragmatist cleric a second term in which to pursue Iran’s re-engagement with the world.

“It’s over, Rouhani is the winner,” the source said on condition of anonymity.

One Rouhani supporter warmly welcomed the news, but said she expected him to provide greater social and economic freedoms, pledges he made when first elected in a landslide in 2013 by Iranians weary of economic decline and clampdowns on dissent.

“I am very happy for Rouhani’s win. We won. We did not yield to pressure. We showed them that we still exist,” said 37-year-old Mahnaz, a reformist.

“I want Rouhani to carry out his promises.”

Rouhani won 21.6 million votes in Friday’s hard-fought contest, compared to 14 million for Raisi, with 37 million votes counted, the source said, adding about four million more votes were still to be tallied.

Ahmadi, the interior ministry official, said that with 25 million ballots certified by the authorities so far, Rouhani had won 14.619 million and Raisi gained 10.125 million.

He said 40 million votes had been cast, indicating a turnout of about 70 percent, roughly similar to the showing in 2013. Ahmadi said final results would be announced later on Saturday.

The big turnout appeared to have favored Rouhani, whose backers’ main concern had been apathy among reformist-leaning voters disappointed with the slow pace of change.

“The wide mobilization of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote,” said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani casts his ballot during the presidential election in Tehran, Iran, May 19, 2017. via REUTERS

“We had a bet among friends, and I said Raisi would win and I think that encouraged a few of my friends who might not have voted to come out and vote.”


Analysts expressed caution about how much Rouhani would be able to do to bring about broader reforms, despite his apparently decisive win, given the influence of security hardliners in Iran’s hybrid clerical-republican system.

“The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment,” said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran.

“Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen.”

Rouhani, 68, who took office promising to open Iran to the world and give its citizens more freedom at home, faced an unexpectedly strong challenge from Raisi, a protege of supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

The election is important “for Iran’s future role in the region and the world”, 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 after voting.

Raisi, 56, had accused Rouhani of mismanaging the economy and has travelled to poor areas, speaking at rallies pledging more welfare benefits and jobs.

He is believed to have had the backing of the powerful Revolutionary Guards security force, as well as the tacit support of Khamenei, whose powers outrank those of the elected president but who normally steers clear of day-to-day politics.

“I respect the outcome of the vote of the people and the result will be respected by me and all the people,” Raisi said after voting, according to the semi-official Fars news agency.

However, Raisi later appeared at the Ministry of Interior in Tehran on Friday and complained of a shortage of ballot sheets at many polling stations, according to Fars. More ballot sheets were subsequently sent out, the agency reported.

The Guards and other hardliners had hoped that a win for Raisi would have given them an opportunity to safeguard economic and political power they see as jeopardized by the lifting of sanctions and opening of the country to foreign investment.

During weeks of campaigning, the two main candidates exchanged accusations of corruption and brutality in unprecedentedly hostile television debates. Both deny the other’s accusations.

Rouhani had urged the Guards not to meddle in the vote, a warning that reflects the political tension. Suspicions that the Guards and a militia under their control skewed voting results in favor of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led to eight months of nationwide protests in 2009, which were violently suppressed.


For ordinary Iranians, the election presented a stark choice between competing visions of the country.

Rouhani, known for decades as a mild-mannered establishment insider rather than a gung-ho reformer, had adopted the mantle of the reform camp in recent weeks, with fiery campaign speeches that attacked the human rights records of his opponents.

“I voted for Rouhani to prevent Raisi’s victory. I don’t want a hardliner to be my president,” said Ziba Ghomeyshi in Tehran. “I waited in the line for five hours to cast my vote.”

Many pro-reform voters are still lukewarm Rouhani supporters, disappointed with his failure to make broader changes during his first term. But they were anxious to keep out Raisi, who they see as representing the security state at its most fearsome: in the 1980s he was one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death.

For conservatives, the election represented a chance to restore the values of the 1979 revolution, which requires elected officials to be subordinate to the Shi’ite Muslim clergy and supreme leader.

Despite the removal of nuclear-related sanctions in 2016, lingering unilateral U.S. sanctions that target Iran’s record on human rights and terrorism have kept foreign companies wary of investing, limiting the economic benefits so far.

Raisi focused his campaign on the economy, visiting rural areas and villages and promising housing, jobs and more welfare benefits, a message which could have resonated with millions of poor voters angry at the Tehran elite.

(Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Samia Nakhoul)


All Eyes On Iran For Friday’s Election — Religious Hard-liner Mounts Challenge to Rouhani — Iran’s Presidential Race

May 17, 2017

Voters choose Friday between candidates with conflicting visions—President Hassan Rouhani, who has made an opening to the West, and a political newcomer wary of where such a path leads

Posters of Ebrahim Raisi, a hard-line cleric, being passed out in April in Tehran. Credit Ebrahim Noroozi/Associated Press

Updated May 17, 2017 12:04 p.m. ET

TEHRAN—President Hassan Rouhani faces a hard-line opponent in a national vote Friday that is shaping up as one of the most contentious and consequential elections since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979.

The contest puts before Iranian voters two candidates with conflicting visions for the country—Mr. Rouhani, who has made an opening to the West, and a political newcomer wary of where such a path leads.

Ebrahim Raisi, a 56-year-old cleric with close ties to Iran’s supreme leader, has emerged as a tougher-than-expected challenger, taking advantage of economic troubles and railing during campaign rallies against inefficient government and its failure to address corruption.

Mr. Raisi, supported by Iran’s hard-line establishment, has used his campaign to criticize the signature accomplishment of Mr. Rouhani’s first term: the 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, including the U.S. The agreement lifted most economic sanctions and expanded oil exports.

The Obama administration pushed the nuclear deal, in part, because it believed the lifting of sanctions would allow Iran to eventually moderate its domestic and foreign policies, according to current and former U.S. officials.

The Trump administration has shifted U.S. rhetoric and imposed new sanctions on Iran that target entities involved in Tehran’s ballistic missile program and alleged human-rights abuses. It sees the election as a gauge of Tehran’s future policies, but its antipathy toward Iran is unlikely to change regardless of who wins, a senior Trump administration official said.

Lifting Sanctions on Iran

President Hassan Rouhani, seeking a second term in elections Friday, faces a hard-line opponent who has criticized Mr. Rouhani’s signature achievement: the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted most economic sanctions and boosted oil exports. Mr. Rouhani’s popularity has ebbed among voters who say they haven’t seen the economic benefits.

Mr. Rouhani has during rallies referenced, though never directly, Mr. Raisi’s alleged connections with Iran’s deadly 1988 purges as a longtime member of the judiciary. He told a packed stadium in western Iran this month that voters wouldn’t support candidates who “executed and jailed” fellow citizens.

Mr. Raisi hasn’t addressed Mr. Rouhani’s comments in interviews or speeches. A judiciary spokesman, responding to Mr. Rouhani’s mention of executions, said Tuesday that Iran’s judiciary has helped fight against terrorism.

“My record is that I was a soldier for this country,” Mr. Raisi said Tuesday at a rally in Tehran. “My past was to push away the sinister shadow of terrorists from the country.”

Until recently, the election appeared an easy win for Mr. Rouhani, who is seeking a second four-year term. But his popularity has ebbed since last year as Iranians failed to see economic benefits from the nuclear deal, polls show.

Iran President Hassan Rouhani waves to supporters at a campaign rally this month in Tehran.
Iran President Hassan Rouhani waves to supporters at a campaign rally this month in Tehran. PHOTO: EBRAHIM NOROOZI/ASSOCIATED PRESS

“The situation hasn’t been good in these four years,” said Ali Arjomandi, a 26-year-old medical student who attended a recent rally for Mr. Raisi.

Mr. Rouhani’s support among likely voters was around 61%, according to the most recent polls by Washington-based International Perspectives for Public Opinion; Mr. Raisi was at 27% after Tehran Mayor Mohammad Ghalibaf dropped from the race and gave his support to Mr. Raisi.

Iran’s hard-line factions have coalesced around Mr. Raisi, sending him to the campaign trail after a career spent behind the scenes.

Mr. Raisi has promised to create a million jobs a year, address a nearly 13% unemployment rate and revive financially troubled housing projects for the poor. His campaign message mirrors former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s in speeches that mix religion, politics and economics.

“In my childhood, I experienced the taste of poverty,” he said in a TV interview last month. “Being an orphan, I worked as child and a teenager, and I know how the deprived feel because I experienced it firsthand.”

Religious pride

A victory by Mr. Raisi would bolster his chances to succeed Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who served two terms as president in the 1980s, analysts said. The supreme leader decides most matters of state, while the president manages policy and serves as Iran’s face to the world.

Few doubt Mr. Khamenei, 77 years old, is behind Mr. Raisi’s rise. In recent speeches, Mr. Khamenei has been critical of Mr. Rouhani’s economic management, a view echoed by Iran’s hard-line media outlets.

Mr. Khamenei appointed Mr. Raisi last year to oversee the Astan Quds Razavi, a charity worth billions of dollars that is central to state-controlled manufacturing and real-estate enterprises under Mr. Khamenei’s control.

Some analysts aren’t convinced Mr. Khamenei is wedded to Mr. Raisi as a successor. “It may be that he’s a contender and Khamenei wants to take him out for a test ride,” said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of political-risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

Iranian conservative presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks at a campaign this month in Tehran. The election is Friday.
Iranian conservative presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi speaks at a campaign this month in Tehran. The election is Friday. PHOTO: ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

At rallies, Mr. Raisi voices a message similar to Mr. Khamenei’s, one that opposes dissent and appeals to emotions triggered by religious pride and Iran’s perceived loss of prestige. It is a view associated with Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, an economic and military force that owns monopolistic companies and leads Iran’s forces in Syria and Iraq.

Iran is the main Shiite power in the region—where Shiites are outnumbered by Sunni Muslim countries, led by Saudi Arabia and its Persian Gulf neighbors, most of which are close U.S. allies. These Sunni nations have increasingly battled against what they view as Iranian meddling—and what Iran sees as its role helping suppressed Shiites.

Iran’s strategy, which has put it in conflict with the West, is carried out by the power Mr. Raisi is closest to—Mr. Khamenei and his inner circle, including the Revolutionary Guard.

Mr. Rouhani, 68 years old, is a regime loyalist, but he represents a more technocratic approach to governing that appeals to younger, wealthier and better-educated Iranians. Many in Iran were born after the revolution. Some want to move past the fervor that drove out the shah, triggered the 444-day hostage crisis at the U.S. embassy and frayed ties between the countries.

If Mr. Raisi wins, Iran’s foreign policy would likely break from the Rouhani-led engagement that yielded Iran’s agreement to put limits on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. A victory by Mr. Raisi also could change Iran’s view on foreign investment. Western companies, including Boeing Co. , have made billions of dollars in sales to Iran since the nuclear agreement.

“Raisi appears to be much more in line with traditional hard-line Iranian thinking about the economy, namely, that integration with the West is costly, and comes with strings attached,” said Behnam Ben Taleblu, a senior Iran analyst at the Washington-based Foundation For Defense of Democracies.

Mr. Raisi has promised to abide by the deal. But he might not be willing or able to persuade the Revolutionary Guard—which sees foreign competition as a threat to its economic power—give up any market share, Mr. Taleblu said.

From left to right, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Secretary of State John Kerry at al news conference in Vienna following agreement on Iran’s nuclear deal on July 14, 2015.
From left to right, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, German Minister for Foreign Affairs Frank-Walter Steinmeier, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond and US Secretary of State John Kerry at al news conference in Vienna following agreement on Iran’s nuclear deal on July 14, 2015. PHOTO: IMAGO/ZUMA PRESS

Mr. Rouhani has been blunt in his critique of the Revolutionary Guard. During the final presidential debate, he criticized the test-firing of a ballistic missile that carried the slogan, “Israel should be wiped off the Earth,” soon after the nuclear deal took effect last year. He said at a rally that monopolies weren’t good for Iran, a veiled reference to the Revolutionary Guard.

“We are at the edge of a great historical decision,” Mr. Rouhani told supporters at a rally Saturday in Tehran. “Our nation this week will announce whether we return to 2012 or head to 2021, if it continues on the path of peacefulness or if it will choose tension.”

Differences between the two candidates stood out during Iran’s three live TV debates. The first exposed Mr. Raisi’s inexperience; he went on the attack in the last two. Mr. Rouhani mostly appeared polished, although criticism from hard-line candidates in the first debate seemed to put him off-balance.

Some voters welcome Mr. Raisi’s promise to increase cash handouts despite strains on the government’s budget. “We want him to save us from hunger and misery,” said Ahmad, age 43, a father of five who works in a bakery. “What will my sons will do when they grow up? I want them to be able to earn money and get married and have children.”

Up the ranks

Mr. Raisi rose through clerical and judicial institutions. In the 1970s, he became a devotee of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran’s first supreme leader, while studying in Qom, home to Shiite Islam’s most influential seminaries.

After the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Mr. Raisi became a member of the ruling clique, and in 1980 he began a decadeslong judicial career with his appointment as the assistant public prosecutor in Karaj, west of Tehran.

At age 23, Mr. Raisi reinforced his establishment ties by marrying the daughter of cleric Ahmad Alamolhoda, a close ally of Mr. Khamenei, the current supreme leader. The couple have two daughters. In the 1980s, Mr. Raisi became the deputy to the prosecutor in Tehran’s Islamic Revolutionary court, a special judicial system known for handling politically sensitive cases.

In July of 1988, after eight destructive years of war with Iraq, Mr. Khomeini ordered that political prisoners be questioned by three-member panels made up of a cleric, prosecutor and intelligence official. Any prisoner who professed allegiance to the banned opposition groups was executed, according to international human-rights groups.

Thousands of people were believed killed, these groups say, although the precise number is unknown. Tehran has long denied any such executions.

Mr. Raisi sometimes stood in as a prosecutor on a three-member panel with a religious judge and an intelligence ministry official, according to a report by the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation, a human-rights group based in Washington, D.C. Mr. Raisi hasn’t responded to the report.

Iranian presidential hopeful Ebrahim Raisi speaks at a mosque in southern Tehran in April.
Iranian presidential hopeful Ebrahim Raisi speaks at a mosque in southern Tehran in April. PHOTO: AHID SALEMI)/SSOCIATED PRESS

After Mr. Khamenei became Iran’s supreme leader in 1989, Mr. Raisi’s career began to advance. He became head of the judiciary’s General Inspection Organization in 1994 and, a decade later, the first deputy head of the judiciary.

Mr. Raisi’s best chance at beating Mr. Rouhani may come if hard-line organizers can get out the rural vote, which accounts for about 20% of the population and tends to vote conservative, said Mr. Kupchan, of the Eurasia Group.

If Mr. Rouhani wins, as most expect, he may be weakened by his public criticism of the Republican Guard and indirect references to the 1988 executions.

“He’s the guy who attacked some of the core values of the Islamic Republic by airing dirty laundry,” said Ray Takeyh, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. “That creates problems for him in the next four years.”

Mr. Khamenei said as the election approached that anyone who disrupts state security “should know that they will definitely be slapped in the face,” a message that unrest won’t be tolerated.

In 2009, Iranians demonstrated against the re-election of Mr. Ahmadinejad, and authorities arrested thousands of people who were led by supporters of defeated presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi. Mr. Mousavi remains under house arrest.

Mr. Raisi, who was deputy head of the judiciary, promised at the time that those arrested would be dealt with “in a way that will teach them a lesson,” according to the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

Write to Asa Fitch at


Ebrahim Raisi: hardline challenger in Iran — Vowing to triple cash hand-outs to the poor — Calls for a much tougher line “in the face of the enemy”

May 17, 2017


© AFP | Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi looks on during a campaign rally in the capital Tehran on April 29, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) – Ebrahim Raisi, the leading rival to President Hassan Rouhani in Friday’s presidential election, is a hardline judge with close ties to the supreme leader who spent years in powerful backroom positions.

Born into a religious family in the holy city of Mashhad on August 23, 1960, Raisi wears the black turban of a “seyed” whose genealogy is said to lead back to Islam’s Prophet Mohammed.

In public, he has an austere charisma, and is surrounded by an entourage with ties to the Islamic regime’s most hardline elements.

He has focused his campaign on the poor, brandishing his credentials as the head of the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, which is also a powerful and hugely wealthy charitable foundation.

“I represent the workers, the farmers, the impoverished women,” he says, vowing to triple cash hand-outs.

It is a message that has fallen on fertile ground at a time when unemployment is at least 12.5 percent and almost everyone is feeling the stagnation of the economy.

He does not oppose the nuclear deal signed with world powers in 2015, which lifted sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s atomic programme.

But he says the current government’s negotiating efforts were “weak” and called for a much tougher line “in the face of the enemy“.

There is little chance Raisi will ease social restrictions or release opposition leaders held under house arrest since the 2009 protest movement, known to conservatives as “the sedition”.

“Those who sympathise with the heads of sedition must know that the great nation of Iran will never forgive this great injustice,” he said in 2014.

– A revolutionary life –

Raisi is entrenched in the conservative establishment, having served as attorney general, supervisor of state broadcaster IRIB and prosecutor in the Special Court for Clerics.

His father-in-law leads Friday prayers in Mashhad and both have seats on the Assembly of Experts that will choose the next supreme leader — a position for which Raisi himself is often rumoured to be in the running.

Raisi’s father died when he was five, and he entered the seminary at an early age, excelling in his studies and moving to the seat of clerical learning in Qom in 1975.

After the 1979 revolution, he was selected for special training by the clerical establishment and studied under Ali Khamenei, who would later become supreme leader.

In 1985, in the midst of the Iran-Iraq war, he became deputy prosecutor at the Revolutionary Court of Tehran that would oversee the execution of thousands of political prisoners.

After serving in a series of increasingly powerful judicial posts, Raisi was appointed in March 2016 by Khamenei to head the Imam Reza shrine.

Known as Astan Qods Razavi, it runs Iran’s holiest shrine as well as a huge business conglomerate with interests in everything from IT and banking to construction and agriculture.

Iran election campaign kicks off after Ahmadinejad excluded by supreme leader

April 21, 2017


© AFP/File / by Eric RANDOLPH and Ali NOORANI | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gestures to the camera after registering to run for re-election in Tehran on April 14, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) –  Campaigning began on Friday for Iran’s presidential election with incumbent Hassan Rouhani facing a tough battle against hardliners, though not from former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who was barred from standing.

Ahmadinejad’s disqualification by the conservative-run Guardian Council was no surprise — he had been advised not to run by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who said it would “polarise” the nation.

Ahmadinejad’s populist economics and defiant attitude to the establishment had alienated even his hardline backers during his tenure between 2005 and 2013.

“Once the supreme leader had told him not to stand, it became impossible for him to be cleared by the Guardian Council,” said Clement Therme, research fellow for Iran at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“By his second term, (Ahmadinejad) was even challenging the clerics. He was not useful anymore for the system.”

The mood in Tehran has been subdued — many are disillusioned with Rouhani’s failure to kick-start the economy despite broad support for his efforts to rebuild ties with the West, notably through a nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions.

The election commission ruled on Thursday that live TV debates would be banned, without giving a reason — a decision criticised by Rouhani and other candidates.

Campaigning, which the Guardian Council announced could begin immediately, had not been supposed to start for another week, so little activity was expected on Friday.

But experts say the authorities are keen to excite interest in the vote.

“They need that for legitimacy — the turnout is even more important than the result,” said Therme.

Iran’s elections are tightly controlled, with the Guardian Council allowing just six people — and no women — to stand for the May 19 vote out of 1,636 hopefuls that registered last week.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent, a run-off between the top two is held a week later.

Rouhani, a politically moderate cleric, squeaked to victory last time with 51 percent in the first round, helped by a divided conservative camp.

The Guardian Council has resisted efforts by Iran’s parliament, the Majles, to clarify the criteria by which they choose candidates.

The constitution adopted after the 1979 revolution offers only vague guidelines that candidates should possess “administrative capacity and resourcefulness… trustworthiness and piety”.

– Hardline competition –

The build-up to the vote has injected more interest than many predicted just a couple of months ago, when Rouhani was seen as a shoo-in for a second term if only because the conservative opposition seemed unable to offer a strong candidate.

Since then, the 56-year-old former judge and cleric Ebrahim Raisi has emerged as a front-runner for the conservatives.

Little-known on the political scene, Raisi runs a powerful religious foundation and business empire in the holy city of Mashhad and is seen as a close ally of — and possible successor to — supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But despite emphasising his care for the poor, many say Raisi’s hardline judicial background and entourage will turn off voters.

“He seems like a good and calm person himself, but the people around him are scary,” said a tour operator in Yazd, echoing a widely heard sentiment.

Some think he may drop out at the last minute in favour of Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who came second to Rouhani in 2013.

Ghalibaf is a war veteran, former Revolutionary Guards commander and police chief — and could be the preferred choice of powerful backroom hardliners.

The other three candidates have been less prominent so far.

They include two moderate reformists, Mostafa Hashemitaba and vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, and a veteran hardliner Mostafa Mirsalim — a selection that appears designed to give an even balance to moderates and hardliners in the upcoming debates.

– ‘Took risks’ –

There were mixed reactions to Ahmadinejad’s disqualification.

Despite controversial rhetoric against Israel that worsened ties with the West, and somewhat reckless financial management, he retained considerable popularity, particularly among the poor.

“I think Ahmadinejad should not have been disqualified,” said Mohammad Barkhordar, 20, doing his military service.

“He was the kind of president that took risks, like distributing money among people and giving houses to the poor, and he had big ambitions for Iran’s nuclear programme. Rouhani doesn’t take any risks.”

But many were glad to see the back of him.

“It was right for Ahmadinejad to be disqualified but it happened 12 years too late,” said one Twitter user.