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Sunni leader endorses Rouhani – Turnout key for election

Supporters of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hold his posters for May 9 presidential election in downtown Tehran, Iran. Who wins Iran’s upcoming presidential election likely will turn on turnout. (AP)

TEHRAN, May 13, (Agencies): A leading figure of Iran’s minority Sunnis endorsed moderate President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday ahead of this week’s election, despite the government’s “shortcomings”. Sunnis make up around five to 10 percent of Iran’s 80 million population, which is overwhelmingly from the Shiite sect of Islam. Religious leader Molavi Abdol Hamid said “the atmosphere for Sunnis has been a little more relaxed” since Rouhani took power in 2013, and that most would support him in Friday’s election. Abdol Hamid repeated calls for greater Sunni representation in local and national government, and more action on discrimination.

“The Sunni community believes that this government, despite its problems and weaknesses, has had more strong points, and we hope if the current government takes office again, it will do more to resolve those problems and shortcomings,” he said in comments carried by his website. He was speaking in Sistan Baluchistan province, a Sunni-majority region in southeastern Iran bordering Afghanistan and Pakistan. Rouhani is leading in official polls, but faces a tough fight for re-election against conservative rivals who accuse him of failing to boost the struggling economy.

Meanwhile, Rouhani vowed Friday to continue rebuilding ties with the world and get rid of remaining sanctions during a fiery final debate a week ahead of the election. Rouhani, who is seeking a second four-year term next Friday, said Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers had ended many sanctions and brought a windfall from renewed oil sales over the past year that could now be invested. “We want to allocate $15 billion for investments … and $3-5 billion for supporting the poor and needy,” said Rouhani.

But he went further in his closing statement, vowing for the first time to target the remaining US sanctions that are still hampering trade deals and preventing foreign money from entering Iran. “I will engage myself in lifting all the non-nuclear sanctions during the coming four years and bring back the grandeur of Iran and the Iranian people,” he said. Removing more sanctions will be a tall order given the current stance of US President Donald Trump, who has harshly criticised the nuclear deal and vowed to take a tougher line on Iran. Rouhani faced bruising attacks throughout the debate from his conservative opponents, who say his policies have done little to help the poor.

“The country is facing an economic crisis, with unemployment, recession and inflation,” said hardline Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who repeatedly returned to his theme that Rouhani’s administration had benefited only the “four percenters” at the top of society. “A tree that has not born any fruit in four years will not yield anything positive in the future,” said Ghalibaf. Much of the final debate consisted of tit-for-tat corruption allegations.

The conservatives accused Rouhani, his family and his associates of financial and property-related graft. The president hit back with his own allegations against the Tehran mayor from a time when he was head of security. “In 2005, I had a dossier on you in my hands and I blocked its publication. If I had let it be published at the time, you would not be sat here today,” said Rouhani.

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