Iran’s President Rouhani is the favorite in Friday’s elections, but he’s up against an influential conservative — and voter apathy

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his archconservative challenger held dueling rallies in northeastern Iran on Wednesday, the final day of campaigning before a closely watched election.

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.

As fears over a confrontation with the Trump administration have given way to more mundane economic concerns, Iranian voters will choose between Rouhani’s promises to create jobs by continuing a tentative rapprochement with the West and Raisi’s pledges to dole out cash subsidies to the poor.

Rouhani promised to have the remaining sanctions against Iran lifted – a long shot because many stem from Iranian security forces’ ballistic missile program and support for militant groups. To cheers from the crowd, he promised a further easing of social restrictions.

“I have honored all the promises I campaigned on four years ago,” Rouhani said. “If I have failed to deliver on some of my promises, it is because they [the hard-liners] have prevented me from doing so.”

For young, Western-oriented Tehran residents, Rouhani remains popular.

Reihane Taravati, a 26-year-old who was among several Iranians arrested in 2014 for participating in an online video set to Pharrell Williams’ hit summer anthem “Happy,” credited Rouhani with securing her release after he tweeted, “Happiness is our people’s right.”

“He has saved us from war, and if he is out of office, we don’t know what will happen to us,” Taravati said. “If the extremist candidate wins, then we will definitely face war. Trump in the White House and a hard-line president here in Tehran – then, bang!”


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Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Bengali from Mumbai, India.

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