>> He's a harsh critic of the West, the darling of conservative hawks, and he's mounting an unexpectedly strong challenge in Iran's presidential election Friday. Ibrahim Raisi is a hard-line candidate standing against incumbent Hassan Rouhani. Reformist Rouhani holds a narrow lead. But Raisi could yet draw on economic discontent in the Islamic republic to swerve into first place.
A 2015 nuclear deal resulted in most sanctions being lifted, but still many Iranians say they're no better off and that's something Raisi is milking, says Reuters Chief Iran Correspondent, Paresa Hafezi.>> He has tried to appeal, reach out to poor Iranian's by promising to create millions of jobs.
While Rouhani has been trying to reach to young Iranians who want more freedom.>> Six million jobs is what Raisi is promising and to triple monthly cash handouts to the lower classes. His critics populism but those pledges play well in rural Iran. Raisi is also a protege of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iranian media speculating that Raisi could even go on to succeed him after being president. The revolutionary guard and volunteered besieged militia have also swung behind Raisi, but Rouhani has gone on the attack. Iranians want more rights, not to move backwards, he says. And in a tense final TV debate he painted Raisi as the power hungry pawn of the security services with a dark past of abuses.
>> Rouhani has started to cross red lines of the establishment and criticize the human rights of his main rival, Raisi, who was one of the four judges that sentenced thousand of political prisoners to death in 1988.>> A contest between rural conservatives with economic grievances and urbanites looking for progressive agenda.
And thus at least, Iran's electoral divide resembles recent battlegrounds in Europe and the United States.