TEHRAN, Iran — All eyes in Iran’s presidential vote on Friday were on the two clerics leading the race: incumbent moderate President Hassan Rouhani and his hard-line challenger, Ebrahim Raisi.
Rouhani ran on his record of pressing for greater personal freedoms at home and openness to the outside world, particularly his administration’s completion of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that won Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.
Raisi struck a populist tone, railing against corruption while promising to fix Iran’s lumbering economy and boost welfare payments to the poor. He accepts the nuclear deal, which hard-liners initially opposed, but his opponents fear a Raisi win could bring a renewed crackdown on civil liberties and a more hostile stance against the West.
The Associated Press spent time with two young Iranians, both 32-year-old parents living in Tehran’s less-affluent outskirts who support opposing candidates, to understand what matters to them.
Here’s what they had to say:
THE RAISI ACTIVIST
Fatemeh Ghasemi has been using the regular chats that she hosts for local women on religion and politics to encourage neighbors to get out and vote.
Several women draped conservatively in black chadors sat on an intricate carpet this week as they listened attentively to the stay-at-home mother of three make her case to vote Raisi.
She sees the hard-line cleric’s values as more in tune with those of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that ushered in Iran’s current governing system. They are values, as she puts it, like “freedom, defending the oppressed, fighting against world arrogance” that other candidates pay little heed to.
Gazing down from a framed portrait in the center of the room was Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s most powerful man, who has the final say on all matters of state. Raisi campaign posters were taped to several walls.
“We have not seen the impact of the nuclear deal on our dining tables at all. This deal has only tainted our national dignity and honor,” she said.
It’s a common complaint among Iranians who are yet to see hoped-for economic benefits that were supposed to follow relief from sanctions.
Shopping for necessities used to be much easier before Rouhani came to office, Ghasemi said. Now she and her husband, a government employee, feel they have to scrimp and be more careful about what they buy.
“Before, we would go to a grocery store and pick up just anything we saw and come out of the store with full shopping bags,” she said. “Now we have to make a shopping list and make the list shorter every day.”
She believes a Raisi victory would give Iran a chance to revive domestic industrial production and create much-needed jobs for young people, nearly a third of whom can’t find work. That in turn would help address social problems like drug addiction and homelessness, she said.
“What other candidates mean by freedom in their slogans is the Western-style freedom (that) has nothing to do with Islamic teaching,” she said. “Rouhani’s policies over the past four years have endangered our Islamic Revolution.”
ROUHANI’S RELUCTANT BACKER
Mohammad Nabizadeh considers himself fortunate by Iranian standards.
He has a decent job working as a software developer, a sought-after position that pays well. He sports a shiny Apple Macbook and makes over $1,800 in a good month. It’s enough so that he doesn’t need to worry about money, but too little to put much into savings.
He and his wife, Raghad, didn’t see much point in voting when they were younger and often boycotted elections. But they’re making sure to take part this year — and getting their friends and relatives to get out and vote, too.
They fear a return to the days when hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was in power and Iran was shunned as a pariah by much of the world.
“We don’t want that image from Iran … to be shown again,” Nabizadeh said.
Before Rouhani’s election four years ago, Iran felt like a country that had been attacked and left in ruins, and it was left to the new president to rebuild, he said. He believes there is still a lot of work to be done.
Nabizadeh in particular hopes Iran can be less cut off from the rest of the world. And he worries about what his 2-1/2 year old son, Shahab, a curly haired cutie who plays the Subway Surfers video game on his dad’s smartphone, will be taught once he goes to school.
“It is important that our country becomes part of the global village. We shouldn’t put up walls around us,” he said. “For me, it’s important that my civil rights are respected.”
Nabizadeh is realistic that one election cannot change everything. He speaks about “gradual changes with small steps.”
He would prefer to vote for the sort of presidential candidate who would never make it through Iran’s strict and clerically overseen vetting process, which excludes those calling for radical change, along with women and many reformists. But he sees Rouhani as the best choice available.
“If any other candidate than Rouhani takes power, we will be destroyed,” he said.
Associated Press journalists Mahdi Fattahi and Mohammad Nasiri in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.
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