Iran's 2017 elections: All you need to know
The May 19 vote will be the first stage, with a possible runoff vote if none of the candidates wins a simple majority.
Hala Saadani | 19 May 2017 11:00 GMT | Elections, Middle East, Iran 2017 Elections, Iran
Iran will be holding its twelfth presidential elections this Friday. Political analysts and Middle East specialists are watching these elections very closely, but what impact will they have?

Why do Iran's presidential elections matter?
Iran is a powerful country in the Middle East, and its stability and foreign policy affect its neighbours and have knock-on effects outside the region as well. Iran is involved in the Syria conflict, is closely tied to Hezbollah in Lebanon, and has interests in countries with sizable Shia populations, such as Iraq and Yemen.

And let's not forget Iran's nuclear programme, which earned it pariah status internationally and crippling economic sanctions that have squeezed its economy.

Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani was able to conclude the successful P5 1 negotiations in 2015, and according to this "nuclear deal" Iran would halt work on its nuclear programme in return for a lifting of the sanctions and the unfreezing of billions of dollars in Iranian funds.

ANALYSIS: How will May 19 election shape Iran's foreign policy?

Who are the main candidates?
Right now the two strongest candidates are:

Incumbent Reformist President Rouhani, recognisable by his white turban. Rouhani is a Muslim scholar and lawyer with strong religious and revolutionary credentials, having preached against the Shah, changed his name to avoid detection by the secret services, and joined parliament after the revolution.
Rouhani was involved in secret negotiations with the US over the Iran Contra deal in the 1980s and in the P5 1 negotiations, which were successfully concluded during his presidency.

His Principlist challenger Ebrahim Raisi (recognisable by his black turban). Raisi is also a Muslim scholar and seen to be very close to the current Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Raisi was younger than Rouhani at the outset of the Iranian revolution, but he rose quickly through the ranks and has most recently worked as Iran's prosecutor general.
Raisi has also been named custodian of Astan Quds Razavi, which is in charge of the Imam Reza shrine, the holiest shrine in Iran that controls the largest assets of any charity in the Muslim world.

Up until Monday, there were two other strong candidates in the race, Reformist First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri and Principlist mayor of Tehran Mohammed Bagher Ghalibaf.

The two candidates had strong showings during the televised debates and on the campaign trail, but they were seen as placeholder candidates and both had withdrawn by Tuesday evening.

Jahangiri announced his full support for Rouhani and asked all those who supported him to vote for him as well, while Ghalibaf threw his support behind Raisi and asked his supporters to do the same.

What is the difference between a Reformist and a Principlist?
There are two main blocs in the Iranian political spectrum, Reformist and Principlist. Both, however, have their primary loyalty to the Islamic Revolution and the established order of Iran.

Reformists are the more liberal side, as they believe in opening Iran up to the world, liberalisng economic policy, encouraging foreign investment in the country, and focusing on the rights of Iranian citizens. By extension, this side of the political spectrum is very much pro the nuclear deal and the improvements it can bring to Iran and its people.

Principlists are the conservatives of Iranian politics.They are not in favour of liberalisation or opening up to the outside world, which puts them on the opposite side with regards to the nuclear deal as well, which they think was not the right instrument for Iran to sign on to, but have reluctantly agreed to support it.

During the campaigning leading up to the elections, they [conservatives] mentioned the nuclear deal often as an opening to attack Rouhani for not having delivered any major tangible improvement in the lives of everyday Iranians since the end of 2015.

Watch - Iran Elections: Change or no change? (13:04)
Can a woman be president?
There has been a lot of dispute in Iran about whether or not a woman can become president. The constitution of Iran uses the word "rejal" [men in persian] to refer to the acceptable candidates, stating in Article 115 that a president is to be elected from among "religious and political rejal".

The Guardian Council, which is an appointed body, is responsible for vetting all nominees for the presidential election and allowing only those that it sees as acceptable to run. They have so far held to the opinion that the word "rejal" in the constitution refers only to men.

This year, 73-year old Azam Taleghani registered to run for the presidency for the third time (first time was in 1997, second time in 2009). Her candidacy has been rejected by the Guardian Council every time but Taleghani, who is the Secretary General of the Islamic Revolution Women's Society, has vowed to keep up her fight to demand that the Guardian Council revise their strict interpretation of the constitution, arguing that "rejal" can also be interpreted as "personalities" and does not have to mean "men"