Iran’s supreme leader issued a warning on Wednesday, saying there was a chance that some individuals — he wasn’t clear which — might interfere in Friday’s presidential elections. In 2009, widespread allegations of fraud led to street protests that rocked the country for six months. In a statement posted on his personal website, Khamenei.ir, the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called upon the state institutions that organize the elections to “be vigilant to protect and secure people’s votes.” “Some people might wish to make infringements,” he added, though he did not specify whether he was referring to people in state institutions. He went on to say: “However, these bodies, be it supervisory, executive or security-ensuring bodies, thanks God, are trustworthy and, certainly, should be vigilant.”
As two Iranian soldiers order falafel sandwiches at the Commander diner in Tehran, Kazem Amini outlines what he sees as the priority ahead of Friday’s presidential election in the Islamic republic. “The first is security,” says Mr Amini, one of the restaurant’s co-owners, standing by a mural depicting some of the hundreds of thousands who died in Iran’s 1980s war with Iraq, the face of current Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani looming among the fallen. “We are a geopolitically important nation, we have to keep our borders safe.” The election coincides with increasing scrutiny and criticism of Iran from Donald Trump, US president, over its involvement in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. Mr Trump, who embarks on his first tour of the Middle East next week, has already warned Tehran that it is “on notice”.
Up to 55 million Iranians will vote Friday in a presidential election that pits moderates against religious conservatives and has economic fallout from the American-backed nuclear deal at its heart. Iran is far from a complete democracy and the president is not the most powerful person in the country. That job falls to 77-year-old Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an unelected head of state seen as the guardian of the Islamic republic and God's emissary on Earth. And not just anyone can become president. Candidates are being strictly vetted. More than 1,600 people put themselves forward, but Iran's unelected conservative Islamic Guardian Council whittled the list down to just six. All of those who made the cut are Shiite Muslim men. No woman has ever been chosen.
Iranian state media says four ATR 72-600s are being delivered, the first installment of a deal with the French manufacturer to purchase 20 passenger planes following the lifting of sanctions under the 2015 nuclear deal. The IRNA news agency said the first plane landed in Tehran early Wednesday, with the other three expected later in the day. The planes were officially given to Iran Air in a ceremony Tuesday in Toulouse, where ATR is based. Iran Air finalized a deal last month with ATR for 20 twin-propeller aircraft, with an option to buy 20 more. The planes are worth $536 million at list prices, though customers usually negotiate discounts. Since the nuclear deal, Iran has signed billion-dollar deals with Boeing and Airbus to replace and upgrade its aging commercial fleet.
A proposal to extend an OPEC and non-OPEC supply cut for nine months is a positive idea, sources familiar with Iranian thinking said, suggesting OPEC's third-largest producer is likely to go along with such a plan if there is a consensus. Saudi Arabia and Russia, the world's top two oil producers, agreed on Monday on the need to extend output cuts for nine months until March 2018 to erode a glut. That would be longer than the optional six-month extension first agreed. Kuwait, a Gulf producer usually aligned with the Saudi OPEC view, said on Tuesday it supported the proposal. The Iranian position is less predictable, however, as it was the only OPEC member allowed to increase its output under the supply cut deal and holds presidential elections on Friday. "This statement shows the commitment by OPEC and major non-OPEC oil producers to bringing stability to the oil market, in which is essential to have security of supply in coming years," said one of the sources.
The Saudi mission to the UN accused Iran of “deception” and of “supporting terrorism and threatening stability in the region.” In a letter to the UN secretary general and to the president of the UN Security Council, the mission said Iran violated international law through its practices and caused war crimes and crimes against humanity. It added that Iranian armed militias continue to threaten stability in the region and peace in the world noting that the Iranian regime does not hide its support of terrorism. The letter described the Iranian Revolutionary Guards as a tool that exports extremist Iranian ideology and spreads terrorism in the world by supporting extremist militias with arms, money and people, such as the case with the Hezbollah terrorist organization and the sectarian militias in Iraq. Iran was also accused of continuing to support Houthis in Yemen for the purpose of occupying the country and threatening neighboring Saudi Arabia’s security.
A week after incumbent President Hassan Rouhani criticized Iran’s hardline judiciary, its spokesman has announced that dozens of government officials will face possible prosecution for unspecified election campaign violations. “More than 60 managers in the government and executive branch, including those at the city, county and provincial levels of government, have made election violations and their cases are being processed by judges and prosecutors,” said Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei on May 16, 2017—three days before the vote for president and local councils. “There has been a very high number of election violations,” claimed Ejei. “Government officials should be careful not to do anything out of the ordinary against the law.”
Iran’s more historically reliable opinion polls indicate President Hassan Rouhani is likely to win his bid for re-election on Friday. Yet his conservative challengers have put up a stronger fight than many expected, attacking his government’s economic record and accusing him of failing to improve living standards for the poor. If there is to be an upset -- Rouhani would be the first president in the 38-year history of the Islamic Republic not to win when seeking a second term -- the following charts illustrate some potential causes. Rouhani’s supporters are worried about voters staying home on election day. The president is a pragmatic regime stalwart, and a victory will hinge on persuading enough Iranian liberals, known as reformists, to back him.
Iran’s top leader has called for high turnout in Friday’s presidential election, urging voters to send a message to the United States. In a televised speech Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the United States and its allies, including the “pathetic prime minister of the Zionist regime,” or Israel, are closely watching the vote. President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, is seeking re-election in a vote that will largely serve as a referendum on his outreach to the West, which culminated in the 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has criticized as "unworthy" the hostile exchanges between rival candidates in Friday's presidential election, but said a high turnout would mitigate the impact of any lasting animosity. Rivals have been trading accusations of corruption and brutality in debates and speeches aired on live television and the campaign has been the most bad-tempered in the near 40-year history of the Islamic Republic. "In the election debates, some remarks were made that were unworthy of the Iranian nation. But the (wide) participation of the people will erase all of that," Khamenei told an audience on Wednesday, according to his own website.
More than 60 "violations" linked to Friday's presidential and regional elections in Iran have occurred and two people have been arrested, the judiciary said, at a time of mounting tension between moderate and hardline factions. President Hassan Rouhani remains the narrow favorite for a second term thanks to Iran's re-engagement with the world after the lifting of sanctions, but has been hammered by hardline foes over his failure to rehabilitate the economy. Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Mohseni Ejei said Tuesday the electoral infractions were committed by "governors, county chiefs, district chiefs and the heads of government offices", according to judiciary news site Mizan. Mohseni Ejei said the two arrests arose from an attempt by an election candidate's campaign office to steal documents pertaining to a rival.
A reformist candidate dropped out of Iran's presidential election on Tuesday and threw his support behind President Hassan Rouhani, in a widely expected move that will strengthen the incumbent's campaign against a hard-liner. Eshaq Jahangiri, senior vice president under Rouhani, dropped out, leaving just four candidates in the race. "I will dedicate all my abilities to support Rouhani" in Friday's election, Jahangiri said in a statement. Rouhani also has the support of former President Mohammad Khatami, another reformist, who endorsed him on Sunday.
The first picture shows a crowd of thousands packed into a central square in the city of Isfahan this week for a speech by hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, the top challenger to President Hassan Rouhani in Friday's Iranian presidential election. Immediately below is another picture of the same square, with a smaller crowd who had come out the previous day to see Rouhani, with red arrows pointing out the empty areas. The contrasting photos have been posted on hardline social media sites and viewed by tens of thousands of people. Reuters cannot verify whether they give an accurate view of the true size of the crowds at the rival events. But they provide a fine example of how hardliners have caught up with reformers in using social media to spread their message. With the Iranian presidential election only days away, both sides have launched a social media free-for-all unprecedented in Iranian political history.
OPINION & ANALYSIS
On May 19, Iran goes to the polls to select a new president. So far the campaign has been dominated by the economy. Unemployment is high, and oil prices are low. The lifting of sanctions following Tehran’s nuclear agreement with the West has yet to yield benefits. Yet the effect of sanctions — or whether the next president is a hard-liner or a relative moderate — is secondary to the largest long-term threat to Iran’s stability. Due to gross water mismanagement and its ruinous impact on the country, Iran faces the worst water future of any industrialized nation. After the fall of the shah in 1979, water policy became a victim of bad governance and corruption, putting the country on what may be an irreversible path to environmental doom and disruption that owes nothing to sanctions or years of war with its neighbors.
In Washington there is a consensus that the re-election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is in the best interests of the U.S. Most find the self-avowed pragmatic cleric, who championed the 2015 nuclear deal, a less menacing choice than his “hard-line” opponent Ebrahim Raisi, who is rumored to be the preferred candidate of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But a victory for Mr. Rouhani, who appears destined to win unless Mr. Khamenei rigs the election in Mr. Raisi’s favor, would be the worst possible outcome. Better than anyone, Mr. Rouhani can align Iran’s factions on major foreign-policy questions. Put another way, he is uniquely capable of fortifying the theocracy.
Presidential elections in Iran raise a puzzling contradiction: How can the government include both an unelected supreme leader and a president who is chosen in votes that are treated as serious contests? Put another way, is Iran a democracy or a dictatorship? Citizens elect the president, as they will on Friday, as well as members of a legislature. But they are overseen by institutions staffed by clerics. One, known as the Guardian Council, approves all candidates for office, narrowing the scope of elections. Still other unelected bodies, like the Revolutionary Guards, wield tremendous power. The supreme leader, who holds the position for life, is the most important figure, overseeing everything.