Iran's re-engagement with the world at stake in Friday presidential vote

Tensions between moderate and hardline political factions have escalated in the run-up to Friday's election as top candidates have resorted to unusually caustic criticism of each other, a rarity in Iranian political discourse.

"A tree that has not born any fruit in four years will not yield anything positive in the future", said Tehran mayor and presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf in the final debate on Friday.

Official statistics over the past decades show that moderate candidates, including former president Muhammad Khatami and Green Movement leader Mir Hussein Mosavi enjoyed wider support in both Kurdish and Sunni regions in Iran. Rouhani, who pledged to reduce Iran's worldwide isolation and grant more freedoms at home, averted a second round by winning just over 50 percent. "A man who should be on trial for the most heinous crime in contemporary Iranian history, is instead seeking the presidency", said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI).

"Not all of Qalibaf's supporters will move to Raisi, but he does provide some capacity for conservatives to unite", said Suzanne Maloney, an Iran scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

"So far, Raisi has received support from the shadowy corners of the Iranian security establishment", Taleblu said.

"Some issues can not be resolved if the government has only 51 percent of votes", Rouhani said.

Vice president and presidential contender, Es'haq Jahangiri, announced on Tuesday he has dropped out in favor of incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, urging his backers to turn out in large numbers to give Rouhani a stronger mandate to press ahead with his plans to bolster the economy and promote social freedoms.

"Qalibaf's votes will be divided between Rouhani and Raisi".

Rouhani has been redoubling efforts this week in order to appeal to "grey" voters, the estimated 20 million Iranians who do not usually vote.

Since the signing of the nuclear deal in 2015 in which Iran agreed to rein in elements of its nuclear program in exchange for partial sanctions relief from the US and the European Union (EU), Iran has been able to more than double its supply of oil to the market.

"We will use Qalibaf's experiences and his managerial capabilities in the next government", Tasnim news agency quoted Raisi as saying on Monday.

Moreover, in the eyes of many young Iranians, Mr. Rouhani's focus on the long-term economic development of Iran, promises to boost the purchasing power of the Iranian middle class and the reduction of the wealth gap are no longer enough. Among the audience was Parvin Fahimi, the mother of Iranian protester Sohrab Arabi, who was killed in the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential vote.

Qalibaf finished second in the last election four years ago with 16.5 percent of the vote.

Known as Astan Quds Razavi, it runs Iran's holiest shrine as well as a huge business conglomerate with interests in everything from IT and banking to construction and agriculture.

Khamenei, Iran's final arbiter on all matters of state, intervened last week as the campaigns became more confrontational, calling on candidates to avoid "immoral" outbursts that could damage the nation.

The former prosecutor has promised to build a self-sufficient "resistance economy", create millions of jobs and triple cash hand-outs to the poor.



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