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4 Things To Know About Iran's Election On Friday

Ebrahim Noroozi, AP
A supporter of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi shows her hand with writing in Persian that reads "Raisi," during a rally in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday. He is the country's hard-line judiciary chief and is closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran is holding a presidential election on Friday. A hard-liner close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is widely predicted to win, with an exceptionally low voter turnout.

The vote comes at a crossroads for the country of about 85 million people. World powers are trying to revive the Iran nuclear deal by bringing Iran and the United States back into compliance. Progress there could reinstate limits on Iran's nuclear program while giving the country access to global markets that its economy needs.

President Hassan Rouhani by law cannot run for a third consecutive term. His successor will have a heavy to-do list. Iran is grappling with the coronavirus pandemic, and an economic crisis that's generally blamed on a combination of mismanagement and U.S. sanctions reimposed after the Trump administration abandoned the nuclear deal.

Here is a look at some of the candidates and issues to watch in the upcoming election:

Who is running for president of Iran?

There are four candidates, but one expected winner: Ebrahim Raisi, the Iranian judiciary chief. The state-linked Iranian Students' Polling Agency said on Wednesday that Raisi is favored to win about 64% of the vote.

The other candidates are Abdolnasser Hemmati, former governor of Iran's Central Bank; Mohsen Rezaei, former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps; and deputy speaker of parliament Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi.

As The Associated Press puts it, Iran's political spectrum includes hard-liners who seek to expand the country's nuclear program and its power in the world, moderates who generally want to maintain the status quo, and reformists who want to change the theocracy. Even though there's voting in Iran, activists who oppose the Islamic Republic's rulers say there aren't free and fair elections and some view voting as a way to push for progress.

In the weeks leading up to Friday's election, the Guardian Council approved just seven candidates out of a field of nearly 600 registered, disqualifying many more moderate contenders and dozens of women registered to run. Critics said the move was a form of ballot manipulation to secure a hard-line presidency. Three candidates have dropped out of the race this week.

What's known about the leading candidate, Ebrahim Raisi?

Raisi is a 60-year-old Shiite Muslim cleric with close ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, according to the Council on Foreign Relations. He ran for president previously and lost to Rouhani in 2017. Two years later, Khamenei appointed Raisi to head the judiciary. Analyst and president of Eurasia Group Ian Bremmer writes in Time: "Raisi can fairly be described as a 'hardliner,' one of those Iranian officials who is openly hostile to the idea of deeper engagement with Western governments and who favors the strict application of Islamic law at the expense of personal freedom." The U.S. Treasury sanctioned him in 2019, saying: "Raisi was involved in the regime's brutal crackdown on Iran's Green Movement protests that followed the chaotic and disorderly 2009 election. Previously, as deputy prosecutor general of Tehran, Raisi participated in a so-called 'death commission' that ordered the extrajudicial executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988."

What's the mood around the election?

Many voters are disillusioned with politics, and some in the opposition as well as dissidents at home and abroad have called to boycott the vote. The Iranian Students' Polling Agency projected just 42% of the country's 59 million eligible voters will cast ballots, which would be a historic low for the country, the AP reported.

"Everybody knows that Raisi is going to be the next president," 25-year-old Mohammad Sarabi tells NPR's Peter Kenyon in Tehran, "no need to have any election for him."

Many Iranians are disappointed in the incumbent, Rouhani, who had broad support and entered the nuclear deal only to see Trump undermine it. Iran's economic woes are a leading concern for voters, especially as American sanctions have battered the country's key oil and financial sectors. Residents also say even things like food and medicine — which U.S. officials say are not targeted by sanctions — are hard to come by.

At the same time, Iran has been hit hard by the coronavirus. The country has recorded more than 3 million confirmed cases of infection and more than 80,000 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. Less than 5% of the population is estimated to have received at least one dose since the country began coronavirus vaccinations in February. Iranian media reported a domestically developed vaccine recently got emergency authorization. For the election, authorities say there will be more voting booths and polling centers will be outdoors where possible, Al Jazeera reported.

Many commentators consider a Raisi win a foregone conclusion, but some Iranians still hold out hope for the unexpected. The predicted front-runner hasn't always won in Iran.

"Judging from social media posting, it seems that the former governor of the Central Bank, Abdolnasser Hemmati, has emerged as sort of the hope for many moderates and reformists, considering that he's an economist who might be able to tackle the country's problem," says Mehrzad Boroujerdi, director of the School of Public and International Affairs at Virginia Tech.

How could the election affect U.S. ties?

Khamenei, the supreme leader, has the last word on foreign policy, although the president and senior diplomats do set the tone with other countries. The Iranian economy will certainly be a priority for the new president, and that will mean getting Washington to lift the sanctions.

President Biden wants to revive the 2015 nuclear deal — hammered out when he was vice president — that removed sanctions in exchange for limits on Iran's nuclear program. The Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the deal in 2018 before hitting Iran with tough sanctions. In turn, Iran started breaching limits in the deal, such as on the amount of enriched uranium — nuclear fuel — it produces.

International delegations have been meeting with Iranian envoys to negotiate a way back to the agreement for both the U.S. and Iran. The Biden administration recently lifted some sanctions, which media interpret as a goodwill gesture.

The "Biden administration is logically holding its breath and are deciding how it needs to react to the outcome of the Iranian election and whether there is going to be really massive change in Iran's position — which, frankly, I do not expect," says Boroujerdi of Virginia Tech.

Khamenei supports the talks to reenter the nuclear deal and officials in Tehran expect to reach an agreement before the next president takes office in August, according to CFR.

In the final presidential debate on June 12, the former Central Bank chief Hemmati said "Mr. Raisi, you and your friends have played in Trump's ground with your extremist policies."

Raisi assured viewers he would bring Iran back to the nuclear deal. But he told Hemmati: The deal "would not be executed by you, it needs a powerful government to do this."
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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