In a crowded prayer hall in Tehran, ultra-conservative Saeed Jalili mobilized his fervent supporters ahead of the second round of the presidential election on Friday, while his reformist rival Masoud Pezeshkian whipped up the crowd in a nearby stadium.

Iranian candidates hold final rallies before presidential election

The two candidates held their final campaign rally on Wednesday evening after leading the first round of snap elections to succeed President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash in May.

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Chants of “All of Iran says Jalili” rang out as thousands of supporters of the former radical nuclear negotiator gathered at the Grand Mosalla Mosque in central Tehran, buzzing with excitement.

Jalili promised “strength and progress” if elected. Posters of the late ultraconservative Raisi hung on the walls with the slogan: “A world full of opportunities, Iran is making great leaps forward.”

In an open-air stadium elsewhere in the capital, Pezeshkian pleaded for “unity and cohesion,” as his supporters chanted against another former president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami, who had backed their candidate.

“Long live Khatami, long live Pezeshkian!” shouted the enthusiastic crowd, waving green flags with the reformist candidate’s “For Iran” slogan.

In the prayer hall, women dressed in black chadors sat in a designated area, separated from the men. But they all burst into wild applause when Jalili made his entrance.

“We are at a historic moment,” he told the cheering crowd, as he urged voters to go to the polls on Friday.

Only 40 percent of Iran’s 61 million eligible voters turned out last week, the lowest turnout for a presidential election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

For 40-year-old Maryam Naroui, Jalili is “the best option for the country’s security”.

A 39-year-old housewife who did not want to give her name said he was “honest and will follow Raisi’s path”.

Jalili, known for his uncompromising anti-Western stance, has fiercely opposed efforts to restore a historic 2015 deal with world powers that imposed restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities in exchange for lifting sanctions.

He argued that the deal, which collapsed in 2018 when the United States withdrew, had violated all of Iran’s “red lines” by allowing inspections of nuclear sites.

As he spoke, some supporters chanted slogans condemning former President Hassan Rohani, whose government negotiated the deal.

If we are elected, Jalili said at the meeting, “we will enhance the strength and progress of the country.”

Pezeshkian, who calls for “constructive relations” with Western governments to end Iran’s “isolation”, has won the support of moderate Rouhani and reformist figures including former President Khatami.

“We can govern our country with unity and cohesion,” Pezeshkian told his cheering supporters.

“I will resolve internal disputes as best I can,” he said.

Pezeshkian, who has vowed to “fully” oppose police patrols enforcing the mandatory headscarf and has called for an easing of long-standing internet restrictions, spoke to a crowd of women in colorful headscarves, wrapped in traditional black chadors, alongside men.

The issue of the hijab has become particularly contentious following mass protests following the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, who was being held in custody for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code for women.

Since months of nationwide unrest, women have increasingly violated the code. But police have also stepped up enforcement in recent months.

Sadegh Azari, a 45-year-old who works in the insurance sector, said: “I believe that if Pezeshkian wins… people will have hope for the future.”

rkh-mz/ami

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