04/13/2017, 12.03
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Iran’s presidential elections hang on economy rather than Islam

The vote scheduled for May 19. Since 1979, the outgoing leader has always won a second term. Grand Ayatollah loyalist , Ebrahim Raisi, to challenge Rouhaniand as well as Hamid Baghaei, former number two of Ahmadinejad who has stunned everyone by announcing his candidacy. The challengers accuse Rouhani of undermining the economy. President responds with data indicating "progress."

Tehran (AsiaNews) – Iran’s presidential elections in scheduled for next May 19, sees the nation’s conservative wing - fragmented into factions often in opposition to each other - looking for a single candidate to beat outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani. A task is not easy since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 all of the Republic's leaders  have been re-elected for a second term.

To avert the debacle of 2013, conservatives have relied on primaries, held on April 9, which have decreed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei loyalist Ebrahim Raisi as main challenger to Rouhani’s. Called the "knight" of spiritual guidance and leader of Iran's Shiite establishment, he is a member of the hard-liners who oppose the current leadership. Raisi heads the powerful Astan Quds Razavi charitable foundation, is the guardian of the tomb of Imam Reza, one of the most important sites for Shiite pilgrims in Mashaad, North-east city and the birthplace of the presidential candidate.

In the recent past his name even had emerged as a potential replacement for the 77-year old ayatollah Khamenei. For this Raisi stalled before welcoming the nomination. A defeat in the presidential election, in fact, greatly reduces chances of seeking - in the future - the highest and most prestigious office in the country. His profile reassures conservatives and attracts the attention of the most "religious" voters, though his figure does not seem - for now - capable of securing a majority of the vote. Descending - so it is said - from the Prophet and depicted with his black turban, the 56 year old conservative leader has made a career in the judiciary to become, in 2014, the Attorney General of Iran.

Another possible challenger is the ultraconservative Hamid Baghaei, a close associate of former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. And Ahmadinejad is also back at the center of the political stage and announced yesterday, to everyone's amazement, his registration in the lists of candidates for president. In direct contravention to Khamenei’s instructions, "blocking" the race for the third term in view of this "divisive" figure, the leader of the ultraconservative has defined the words pronounced by the Supreme Leader "just a suggestion." He has the support of the most radical and extremist fringe of the Iranian leadership, which wants a "strong man" to contrast with Donald Trump.

Now it is up to the Council of Guardians of the Constitution to assess the applications and announce, on April 27, the official list of candidates.

However, rather than religious issues, Raisi and Baghei (and Ahmadinejad himself) intend to focus on issues like poverty and corruption to defeat Rouhani, accusing the incumbent president of having worsened the economic situation of the country. Even the nuclear deal, according to these critics, has not resulted in the much desired kick start to the economy compared to a partial abandonment of the nuclear program and "concessions" to the international community.

The economic issue will be central in the next election campaign, and it is no coincidence that, in these days, and even before announcing a candidacy,  President Rouhani held a press conference in which he strongly defended the achievements under his mandate. Dismissing criticism from conservatives, the head of state talked about tangible improvements in the agriculture, health, energy and access to the Internet.

"In every element considered - said Rouhani - the figures show us that after [the nuclear deal] there is more space for movement and progress" in the economic field. The purchase of aircraft thanks to contracts with Boeing and Airbus will allow 4 billion dollars that the Iranians spend on travel to remain in the coffers of the country.

He did not spare harsh criticism of the United States for imposing sanctions on Iran, and having attacked an air base in Syria, one of the key allies of Tehran, in response to an alleged chemical attack by Damascus against rebels and jihadis in the province of Idlib. He called sanctions imposed by Donald Trump in the beginning of this mandate "unreasonable" and accused Washington of acting "as if it thought it were the leader of the world." Conversely, Rouhani held out his hand to the old regional rival, Saudi Arabia, stressing that Tehran is "ready to improve relations" with Riyadh, if " attacks stopped" in neighboring Yemen.

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