Iran has started announcing preliminary vote counts from Friday’s presidential election. Here are five things you should know:
Iran’s election overseers allowed eight candidates on the ballot to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who cannot run again in this election because of term limits. Six candidates remained on the final ballot. Most are solid loyalists to the ruling Islamic theocracy, headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Among the main questions: Will pro-reform voters rally behind one of the relative moderate candidates, former nuclear negotiator Hasan Rowhani, or boycott in protest of the relentless crackdowns in recent years?
WHO REALLY RULES
The Iranian president does not have a direct say in major policies such as the country’s nuclear program or relations with the West. Those decisions are in the hands of the ruling clerics and its defenders, including the powerful Revolutionary Guard. The presidency, however, can help sway views. The president also directs the economy, an increasingly important role as international sanctions bite deeper over Tehran’s disputed nuclear program.
Rowhani has surged in recent days as reformists, liberals and others helped his campaign gain momentum. Rowhani is backed by prominent reform-minded figures including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was denied a spot on the ballot by Iran’s election overseers. Rowhani’s campaign adopted purple as its signature color.
Iran’s security forces are on high alert. In 2009, massive protests rocked the country after Ahmadinejad’s rivals claimed the outcome was rigged in his favor. There have been no indications of widespread demonstrations this time. Authorities, however, are clamping down on everything from pro-reform gatherings to social media.
OPPOSITION UNDER WRAPS
The leaders of the 2009 protests, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, have been under house arrest since early 2011. Both ran against Ahmadinejad and alleged vote fraud. Mousavi is a former prime minister. Karroubi served as speaker of Iran’s parliament.