Iranians vote in a key presidential election

Counting in underway, with more than 40 million votes cast

Iran is choosing its President from among four candidates, the incumbent Hassan Rouhani who is seeking a second term, Ebrahim Raisi – a cleric and former prosecutor, Mostafa Mir-Salim from the Islamic Coalition Party, and Mostafa Hashemitaba from Executives of Construction Party.

Rouhani, a moderate cleric who has been Iran’s President since 2013, negotiated a landmark nuclear deal with world powers in 2015. His main rival Ebrahim Raisi is seen as a hard liner, who is close to the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

If no candidate wins more than 50% of votes cast, a run-off will be held next week.

A very high turnout prompted the authorities to extend voting for five hours. Election officials said the extensions to voting hours were due to “requests” and the “enthusiastic participation of people”.

Estimates show that there are more than 40 million votes cast.

All of the candidates needed to be approved by Iran’s Guardian Council, mostly composed of conservative clerics.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast his vote shortly after the polls opened at 08:00 local time. He urged the citizens to get to the polls early and called for a massive turnout to demonstrate the popularity of the country’s Islamic regime.

“American, European officials and those of the Zionist regime are watching our elections to see the level of participation,” he said. “The Iranian nation has enemies. Faced with the enemy, the people should show its determination and calm,” he added.

During his first term Rouhani has sought to improve Iran’s standing in the world and give citizens more freedom at home. Raisi, on the other hand, is perceived as a hardliner, and enjoys the backing of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards and the rest of the country’s security apparatus.

Rouhani won the last election by a landslide, obtaining three times as many votes as his closest challenger.

Rouhani is leading in the polls, and he and Raisi are expected to qualify for the run-off.

Source: BBC News

Photo: Handout via REUTERS