Why this weekend's Iranian election could change the future of the Middle East for decades

by Andrew Hammond

The Independent: Iran’s presidential candidates are making final preparations for today’s landmark poll, which could have huge implications for the country and world beyond. At the centre of the contest are differing views over incumbent President Hassan Rouhani’s signature accomplishment: the 2015 nuclear accord, and his wider advocacy of economic and political engagement with Western powers.

Rouhani is widely seen as a modest favourite for re-election, not least as all Iranian presidents have won a second term since 1981, but this is by no means assured. He is most likely to prevail if he can win big, securing more than 50 per cent of the vote on Friday and therefore emerging as the victor in the first ballot, just as he did in 2013. However, if a second round run-off is required between the two strongest performing candidates, more conservative opponents of the president could join forces to try to oust him from office.

This election is important not just because it will determine the country’s future path, but also because the victor, and his allies in the Assembly of Experts, will also have a significant voice over who becomes the next supreme leader if Ayatollah Ali Khameini, 77, who took power in 1989, dies in office during the next presidential term.

Though Rouhani’s vision for greater engagement with the West is under scrutiny, his fate may rest more heavily on the matter of public perceptions of the Iranian economy, which is the second largest in the Middle East. Despite the lifting of international sanctions since the nuclear deal with the permanent members of the UN Security Council, many Iranians still don’t feel as big an improvement in their living standards as they hoped from Rouhani’s reforms >>>