TEHRAN: Iran’s top two presidential candidates launched a final day of election campaigning Wednesday as the supreme leader called for a massive turnout to bolster the regime against its “enemies.”
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suggested Iran’s foes would be deterred from pursuing regime change if they saw voters flock to the ballot boxes in Friday’s poll.
“American, European officials and those of the Zionist regime are watching our elections to see the level of participation,” he said in quotes carried on his Telegram messenger account.
“The Iranian nation has enemies. Faced with the enemy, the people should show its determination and calm,” he said.
Turnout is all-important to the Iranian regime, which uses regular elections to demonstrate the legitimacy of its Islamic system.
But on the campaign trail, two starkly different visions of how that system will evolve have been on display.
President Hassan Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric, defended his international outreach, which included a nuclear deal with world powers that ended many sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s atomic program.
Rouhani told his hard-line opponents they were not equipped to continue his diplomatic efforts.
“You say you want to negotiate with the world, but you don’t know how to speak the global language. You don’t even know how to speak the language of your own people,” he said at a rally in the northern town of Ardebil.
His hard-line opponent, 56-year-old cleric Ebrahim Raisi, has vowed to stick by the nuclear deal, but said the government had made too many concessions to the West and failed to “cash the cheque” offered by the accord.
“A diplomacy of supplication will not solve our problems. We need a diplomacy of strength,” he told supporters in Tehran, according to ISNA news agency.
Raisi said Iran’s continued exclusion from international banking, despite the nuclear deal, was proof that Rouhani’s diplomacy had failed.
“Some people say that if we’re elected, the sanctions will return,” said Raisi.
“But in what measure have the sanctions been lifted? The banking sanctions that were the most important are still in place.”
Campaigning will draw to a close on Thursday morning, 24 hours before polls open.
Rouhani is still seen as the front-runner, though polling is unreliable in Iran.
Early election results are expected on Saturday.
The conservative-dominated Guardian Council selected six candidates to stand in the election but two have dropped out, effectively creating a two-horse race between Raisi and Rouhani.
Conservative Mostafa Mirsalim and reformist Mostafa Hashemitaba are still in the race, though they are not expected to win more than a few percent of the vote.