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Iran Elections to Decide Future of Engagement with the West | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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FILE PHOTO: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks live on television after casting his ballot in the Iranian presidential election in Tehran June 12, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz/File Photo

Held on Friday May 19, Iran’s presidential election is effectively a tight two-horse race between moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani and hardline jurist Ebrahim Raisi, with major implications threatening relations with Washington.

Whoever wins the presidential vote will influence not only Iran’s immediate future but also the battle to choose a new supreme leader, who will rule for life.

Rouhani is still seen as the frontrunner, but he faces a tougher than expected challenge from Raisi, who has rallied religious traditionalists and working-class voters angered by the stagnant economy.

But if Raisi wins, it would almost certainly bring to an abrupt halt Iran’s engagement with the west, and ultimately doom the 2015 nuclear agreement – even though the enduring popularity of the deal means he did not directly attack it during the bitter campaign.

More so, Raisi has pushed his charitable credentials as head of the powerful Imam Reza foundation and vowed more support for the poor.

Raisi has attacked the Rouhani government for his “weak” stance during negotiations and for having failed to cash in on the deal.

“We should not show any weakness in the face of the enemy,” he said in a televised debate, raising the possibility that he could deepen already worsening tensions with Washington.

If Rouhani does lose, it would be a first, as all previous presidents since Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became supreme leader in 1989 have been returned to office for a second term.

In Iran, the president has considerable influence – even though he is always constrained by the supreme leader, who has control of a range of unelected military and religious bodies.