On the 19th of May, Iranians will go to the polls to vote for their next President.
The contest is now more or less of a two horse race as the conservative former mayor of Tehran, Mohammad-Baghar Ghalibaf has just dropped out of the race. A political veteran who came second in the 2013 Presidential election, Mohammad-Baghar Ghalibaf has decided to endorse the somewhat less well known but even more conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi.
As things stand, incumbent President Hassan Rouhani is leading in almost all Iranian and foreign opinion polls.
Rouhani’s record is strongest in foreign affairs. It was under Hassan Rouhani that America agreed to the so-called ‘Iran nuclear deal’ and furthermore, it has been under Rouhani that Iran’s role in the anti-terrorist coalition in Syria and the Astana Peace Talks has solidified Iran’s role in the region as one that is increasingly respected and admired even in Arab states including both Iraq and Syria.
Rouhani has also enjoyed a warm relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Russo-Iranian relations continued to improve during Rouhani’s first term.
Many however, are critical of Rouhani’s allegedly lacklustre economic record. Some have criticised him for not taking advantage of the opportunities that were supposed to come from the easing of sanctions in the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal.
In contrast to Rouhani who on the domestic front generally pursues modern/reformist policies, Ebrahim Raisi has campaigned on a populist/traditionalist agenda. He is against relaxations of the country’s moral codes and has pledged an economic programme that would benefit Iran’s poorer citizens.
In a televised debate, Rouhani lashed out at Raisi for dragging religion into a political campaign. He also accused Raisi of relying too heavily on support form the security services.
Raisi hit back by accusing Rouhani’s period in office as being one where poverty has increased and purchasing power has gone down for ordinary Iranians.
In this sense, Raisi is more similar to former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has also quit this year’s race after a brief period as a candidate.
Something that perhaps isn’t talked about as much as it ought to be is that at a time when the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel have become increasingly militant, under Rouhani, Iran has managed to avoid domestic war while still aiding its Syrian partners.
This is an achievement that should not be dismissed. It may be one of the more unspoken reasons that Rouhani will likely win a second term.