Polls open in first Iran presidential vote since atomic deal

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Rouhani responded by calling on voters to keep hardliners away from Iran's delicate diplomatic levers.

REZA SAYAH: But Iran's economy is still struggling.

MOGHADAM, Raisi Supporter: His main attention will be on us, inside the border. "Everyone's thinking about the next four years and the succession of Ayatollah Khamenei", said Saeid Golkar, an expert on authoritarian regimes and Iran at Northwestern University.

Polls opened in Iran on Friday with voters set to give their verdict on President Hassan Rouhani's policy of opening up to the world and efforts to rebuild the stagnant economy. No sitting president has ever been defeated seeking a second term and Rouhani starts a firm favorite, but there is a widespread expectation that Raisi will run him close. The Supreme Leader, now Ali Khamenei, wields (as the name suggests) ultimate power, but the routine functions of government are in the hands of a president and his cabinet, while there is also an elected parliament for legislation. As per FirstPost, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the scrapping of a few economic sanctions on them.

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

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

MOHAMMAD MARANDI, Political Analyst: They have not abided by their side of the bargain.

Under former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, "the sanctions really hurt us".

The ranking official then emphasized that the true victor will be "the great Iranian nation" irrespective of the election's outcome, stressing that a high turnout in the polls demonstrates national solidarity and support for the Islamic Establishment, and would thwart the plots hatched by the enemies in the region and the world.

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Despite the deal, Khamenei remains deeply suspicious of the United States and its intentions towards Iran. I don't think that there is any chance of military conflict. And to ensure that the final results of the election look as if they have been exclusively determined by the people's ballot. Other opposition leaders - including Mir Hossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi - remain under house arrest, but have all said they will vote for Rouhani.

In addition, as nearly all the political oppositions had been wiped out since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, even if they have differences in their programs, the presidential candidates are all different branches of the same tree. Even if inflation has dropped from 35 percent to less than 10 percent, increased oil production and ended some of the worldwide sanctions, the unemployment rate increased up to 12.1 percent, a situation even worse for workers aged 15-24 with 29 percent of them without a job.

Unemployment, meanwhile, remains stuck in the double digits, with almost a third of Iranian youth out of work, according to the International Monetary Fund. Many of them, whether they be married or not, still live with their parents because of a shortage of affordable housing.

With the promise of foreign direct investment and a platform of more gender-balanced politics, the 68-Hassan Rouhani is the front-runner.

REZA SAYAH: Former banker and economic analyst Sadegh Samii says Iran's economy will continue to struggle as long as USA sanctions continue to block Iran from the global banking system.

"[Raisi] is thinking about the people, simple people; he's thinking about poor people", one of his supporters told Al Jazeera.

But the US Treasury imposed new measures to punish Iranian defence officials and a Chinese business tied to Tehran's missile programme. Without the Western money, without the Western banking system, nothing, nothing can possibly function within this country.

Talk of Raisi as a possible successor to Supreme Leader Khamenei could raise the stakes in Iran's carefully vetted election just eight years after a presidential vote sparked the biggest street protests in Iran since iconic student demonstrations in 1999.

Undoubtedly, this brought great benefits to Iran itself, beginning from the creation of new jobs to the renovation of its air fleet.

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