Newsmaker - In tight Iran race, outspoken Rouhani breaks political taboos

With voters preparing to go to the polls Friday, Rouhani is a slight favorite over Ebrahim Raisi, a former attorney general who is custodian of Iran's most important Shiite Muslim shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad, where both candidates held rallies. At his last major rally in Tehran, thousands chanted for reformist leaders locked up after mass protests in 2009.

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. Despite what Khamenei says publicly about Rouhani, the supreme leader is satisfied with him.

"But it is a risky decision". The principlists aren't in favor of economic liberalisation or in opening up to the outside world, leaving the biggest issue between the two sides the nuclear deal with America.

Whoever emerges as Iran's second most powerful man, after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will have enormous influence beyond the country's borders.Incumbent Hassan Rouhani's toughest challenger is Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric and protégé of the supreme leader who has promised to create millions of jobs and increase cash handouts to the poor, something the president dismissed as unrealistic.

REZA SAYAH: Rouhani's government signed the historic nuclear deal with the USA and other world powers in 2015, the first agreement involving Washington and Tehran since Iran's 1979 revolution.

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If you think of a partly constitutionalised monarchy (such as Liechtenstein, which we looked at a while back), where an elected government shares power uneasily with an unelected head of state, you'd be on the right track, but in Iran you have the added complication of the separation of powers between president and parliament.

Much of the Iranian population is young given the drain from the 1980s conflict with Iraq.

In December a year ago, when the members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and non-members including Russian Federation agreed on the first oil output cuts since 2008, Iran was exempted on the grounds that the country had severe economic losses under the sanctions so that it had to be allowed to boost oil production.

Referencing Raisi's campaign promises to help the poor if he wins the May 19 election, Rouhani also questioned what he has done for them given that a large part of the economy in the province is under Raisi's control through Astan-e Quds Razavi.

Another poll by the International Perspectives on Public Opinion also reflected a distinct advantage for Rouhani, but did show he was vulnerable. Right now there's a certain parity in Iran, and the outcome of these elections will be mainly decided by turnout.

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Further increases are seen if Rouhani wins a second term.

Raisi has accused Rouhani of being corrupt and of mismanaging the economy.

Kaveh Rastegari's desire for more freedoms and Ghorban Norouzi's worries about money illustrate the fault lines in Iranian society expected to sway a tightly fought presidential election today. We want our candidate to win.

In the tense final televised debate, Rouhani stretched the boundaries of permissible rhetoric in Iran to paint Raisi as a power-hungry pawn of the security services. "We've entered this election to tell those practicing violence and extremism that your era is over".

Although Rouhani was criticized during the campaign for signing the nuclear deal, principlist candidates have said they would respect the deal as a national accord, despite earlier criticisms. First, it will be evident - especially to Iranians - that the election was stolen, so the Iranian people will be that much more alienated from their rulers.

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