Some questions about Iran's presidential election and beyond:
DOES THE ELECTION MATTER?
Yes, but not in the ways many people think. Iran's president does not set the country's major policies such as the nuclear program, relations with the West or military projects. All this falls under the ruling clerics headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The president acts as the main emissary for the theocracy's positions.
But the president is far from powerless. The post oversees important sectors such as the economy, which needs even greater management as Iran tried to ride out increasingly tighter sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program. The president also has the ear of Khamenei and can help shape strategic policies. Much depends on their relationship. Khamenei and outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had a spectacular falling out, but a president in Khamenei's good graces could have a significant voice in Iranian affairs.
WILL THE OUTCOME AFFECT IRAN'S NUCLEAR PROGRAM?
It won't have a direct effect. The president cannot make any critical changes or concessions. Indirectly, though, the election can have some influence.
Two main theories have been raised. One is that the election could end the internal political bickering of the Ahmadinejad era. This could make the ruling clerics more comfortable in making deals with the West. A second, opposing, prediction is that a seamless front between the ruling clerics and the new president could embolden Iran to take an even more hard-line approach.
The West and its allies fear Iran could be moving toward an atomic weapon. Iran says it only seeks nuclear reactors and technology for energy and medical applications. Iran often cites Khamenei's religious edict, or fatwa, denouncing nuclear arms.
HOW DID THE ELECTION PROCESS WORK?
The step-by-step process is tightly controlled by the ruling clerics.
Candidates first registered with the Interior Ministry. It's essentially an open invitation. Almost anyone can toss in their name. This year, more than 680 did. They ranged from prominent figures such as former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — trying to make a comeback after leaving office in 1997 — to obscure clerics and nonstarters such as a 46-year-old housewife. Iran's constitution refers to the president using a male term, which is interpreted as prohibiting women from serving.
Eight candidates were cleared for the ballot by the 12-member Guardian Council, which vets candidates for president and parliament based on factors including loyalty to the Islamic system. Surprisingly, Rafsanjani was blocked, suggesting the ruling system was worried about his clout and ability to galvanize reformists. Two candidates approved later dropped out of the race in efforts to consolidate voter support behind others.