TEHRAN, Iran — Iran's presidential election is seen as a referendum on Hassan Rouhani's outreach to Western nations and the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which lifted crippling international sanctions.
The average Iranian has yet to see benefits from the deal, making Rouhani vulnerable in his bid for another four-year term.
Many Iranians believe Friday's election will not bring any major change regardless of who wins. Reformist candidates and women were again excluded from the ballot by a clerical vetting committee. Of more than 1,600 hopefuls who registered to run, only six were allowed in the race. Ultimate power remains with the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical body.
Hard-liners are backing Ebrahim Raisi, considered close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Authorities blocked a bid by former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a Holocaust-questioning hard-liner who had championed the country's disputed nuclear program.
Rouhani remains the favorite. Every Iranian president since 1981, when Khamenei himself took the presidency, has won re-election.
Just ahead of the vote, however, many remain uncertain. Some say they'll boycott the election while others want to vote to express their anger over the still-suffering economy.
Here's what some Tehran residents told The Associated Press about the poll.
Will you vote and why?
Abbas Behtash, 61, kitchen utensils salesman in Tehran's Grand Bazaar:
“I have not decided to vote yet because candidates do not consider the situation of our youth and their future. People have difficulty making a living.”
Hamidreza Ghorbanpour, 31, chandelier salesman:
“No, I will not vote because I do not know any of these candidates well and I do not trust any of them either.”
Sholeh Talaeipour, 57, makeup artist:
“I have always voted in the past elections, but I am not going to vote this time. My reason is voting or not voting will not make any difference.”
Jalal Rajaei, 47, electrician:
“I have decided not to vote because previous presidents have been unable to fulfill our demands.”
Alimardan Lofti, 50, car mechanic:
“Every Iranian should vote. I vote because of Israel, Saudi Arabia and enemies that exist around my country. Even if I do not vote for any of these candidates, I will drop a ballot in the box. It is a religious obligation.”
What are the most important issues for you this election?
Majid Razavi, 50, taxi driver:
“I think the biggest challenge of our country is the livelihood of our people, which is a result of mismanagement. If the president stops the reckless extravagance of (the use of) people's assets (by officials), it is possible to improve the situation.”
Somayeh Frokhnejad, 25, designer of women's wear:
“Eighty percent of the young people that I know ... have no goal for their future. All of them are jobless without exception while they hold master's degrees. ... Most of them are seeking to emigrate from Iran for better opportunities and say living conditions in Iran are unbearable.”
Maryam Amir Moezi, 26, dentist:
“What matters most to us is living in a peaceful country. For a country to be peaceful, it should establish good ties with others. It is not good for us to be seen as a country of dictatorship or as terrorists by other countries.”
Fazel Abrishambaf, 25, seminary student:
“We are at war with the world's superpowers. It is an economic war at present. By imposing economic pressures in recent years, enemies have been seeking to make people disappointed and frustrated with their (Islamic) revolution.”
Which candidate or candidates are you supporting and why?
“I am a war veteran but the government has forgotten us. I think Mr. Raisi has better plans for the working class. Mr. Rouhani has forgotten us, the working class.”
Abolfazl Torkmani, 22, law student:
Rouhani, because “our country had been sidelined internationally but in the last four years we saw what international politicians and figures came to our country and we went out of isolation. This is a really great point.”
Are you happy with the candidates available?
Maryam Amir Moezi:
“I wish Mr. (Mohammad Javad) Zarif, (Iran's foreign minister), had nominated himself for the election too. I believe in him as an educated person who can speak English fluently and communicate with other countries very well.”
Mahdieh Esmaelili, 41, fashion designer:
“Honestly speaking, I liked Mr. Ahmadinejad, who was disqualified and cannot be a candidate. I personally like him a lot.”
Sholeh Talaeipour, 57, makeup artist:
“Six candidates or 100 candidates does not matter. When a president's hands are tied, when a president does not have any power, what should we expect to change? What can be reformed?”
How important is the presidential election for you?
“Voting is a way of showing our protest to the heads of the ruling system. This is how we can make them understand that they have failed to meet people's demands.”
Azizollah Azizi, 79, tailor:
“We must participate in the election. Any patriot and citizen of the country must express their dissatisfaction. If you do not like one candidate, vote for his opponent or the other way around.”
“If there were real and true democracy in our country, our people would love to express themselves and have an impact on the fate of their country.”
“Our children are unemployed. We want to have a comfortable life. We finish up by night what we earn during the day. We cannot save anything for tomorrow. The next president should heed our problems.”