Two fresh opinion polls show Hassan Rohani, the candidate on whom many pro-reform elements in Iran are pinning their hopes, in a virtual tie with conservative candidate Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf ahead of this week's presidential election.
In its latest survey on the candidates, conducted in the last two days, Mehr public opinion survey center in Tehran says Qalibaf, the current mayor of Tehran and a former security official, is the front-runner with 17.8 percent support. The poll puts Rohani, a former nuclear negotiator, at 14.6 percent support. The research is a sampling of the views of 800 people in 31 provincial centers. Mehr is related to the semiofficial news agency of the same name and is regarded as close to conservatives.
Another organization, U.S.-based IPOS (Information and Public Opinion Solution), which is polling people in Iran by telephone, reports that Rohani's rating has climbed from 14.4 percent in the last two days to 26.6 percent and puts Qalibaf at 24.8 percent in the same survey. IPOS is a private group headed by well-known Iranian sociologist and pollster Hossein Ghazian, who is based in the United States.
In recent days, Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, two former presidents who are at odds with Iran's ruling elite, have each endorsed Rohani.
Even very recently, the Iranian elections have been perceived as seemingly uneventful and firmly under the control of the conservatives. Rafsanjani's candidacy was rejected and the field of approved candidates is dominated by people loyal to the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. But during the presidential debates, the mild-mannered Rohani, who is a clergyman, voiced some strong alternative views and criticized the regime for its handling of nuclear negotiations with the West. Gradually, he appears to have gained credibility as a viable candidate for reformists -- some of whose leaders are under detention or otherwise marginalized. Rohani himself has never been considered a reformist leader, like Khatami, for instance; but many people who want a major change in government policies in Iran now appear to be betting on him as an agent of change.
If these opinion surveys are a true indicator of the public mood the elections are likely to go to a second round in which the two opposing political currents are represented. That would certainly make the elections interesting for Iranians and Iran watchers alike. A second round in which Rohani faces a former security official and confessed strongman who beat demonstrators during previous unrest might well galvanize the public and possibly reignite passions similar to those of 2009, when many Iranians believed the regime rigged the results in favor of its candidate, incumbent Mahmud Ahmadinejad. At the time and in the months that followed, millions of Iranians came out into the streets to protest the results, and dozens were killed and hundreds were arrested during tense days in the country.
Written by Mardo Soghom, RFE/RL's regional director for Iran and Iraq, based on Radio Farda reporting