Rouhani on Pace to Win Re-election in Iran
But no matter how large and sweeping any victory might be, Mr. Rouhani, 68, will face considerable headwinds, both at home and abroad.
While he accomplished his goal of reaching a nuclear agreement with the United States and Western powers, Iran has not enjoyed the economic benefits he predicted because of lingering American sanctions. He badly needs to demonstrate progress on overhauling the moribund economy.
Whoever wins must also deal with an unpredictable and hawkish Trump administration that this week only reluctantly signed the sanctions waivers that are a central element of the nuclear agreement. At a summit meeting this weekend in Saudi Arabia between President Trump and leaders of predominantly Muslim countries, Iran was pointedly not invited.
The Trump administration’s national security officials are on record as considering Iran the source of most of the Middle East’s troubles, while the Republican-controlled Congress is not about to loosen the unilateral sanctions that are frightening off foreign banks and businesses.
Mr. Raisi, 56, is a hard-line judge who campaigned as a corruption fighter and called on Iran to solve its economic problems without help from foreigners. He presented himself as a champion of the poor and the pious.
Urban Iranians voted in high numbers, largely against him.
Responding to campaigns on social media led by prominent intellectuals, actresses, Instagram stars and sports figures, about 40 million of the 56 million Iranians who live in or near cities turned out to vote.
That reflected the bitter lesson of 2005, when many people boycotted that year’s election out of disillusionment with the hard-liners’ thwarting of the reformist agenda of the outgoing president, Mohammad Khatami. That allowed the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and conservative clerics to elect Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Holocaust-denying former president.
As more and more voters lined up at polling places throughout the day on Friday, election officials extended the voting three times, first by two hours, then four hours and finally five hours.
Over the past week of campaigning, streets in Iranian cities were filled with supporters of both candidates, often friendly but at times arguing over the future of the country.
Still, the campaign ended with some bitterness, with Mr. Rouhani and Mr. Raisi trading fierce accusations in three live televised debates.
During the race, Mr. Rouhani promised economic growth and greater freedom of speech and of the news media.
Mr. Raisi, a former prosecutor who leads one of the wealthiest religious foundations in the Middle East, vowed to revive the ailing economy, to give cash assistance to the poor and to fight corruption. He has also criticized the nuclear deal, though he pledged to retain it.
The election emphasizes a split between those favoring overhauls and those who want to stick to the ideological precepts of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Mr. Rouhani is seen as more outward-looking, favoring improved relations with other countries and opening up the largely state-run economy. Mr. Raisi favors a more populist, insular approach.
“I am voting for Raisi because he is a ‘sayyid,’” said Fazlolah Bahriye, using the honorific given to those believed to be descendants of the Prophet Muhammad. Mr. Bahriye, who said he thought he was in his early 70s (many in Iran are unsure of their birth dates), then offered a diatribe against politicians, saying that they promised many things but never delivered.
Other voters, especially younger ones, said they favored Mr. Rouhani. “I want more freedom, a relaxation of the strict rules,” said Muhammad Badijan, 19. He was wearing bright blue contact lenses that matched his shirt. “I just want to live a normal life,” he added.
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