Tehran, May 19 (IANS) Millions of Iranians flocked to polling stations on Friday to vote in a presidential election that pits incumbent Hassan Rouhani against a strong conservative opposition.
Rouhani’s main challenger is Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric and former prosecutor who is close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Rouhani seeks to normalise ties with the West, against Raisi who said that the President “sold out the values of Iran’s Islamic revolution to its enemies”.
Some 63,500 polling stations opened at 8 a.m. on Friday in the country where more than 56 million were eligible to vote. Early election results are expected on Saturday, Press TV reported.
Khamenei was among the first to cast his ballot and urged people to vote. “I believe that the presidential election is very important. The fate of the country is in the hands of people,” he said.
Rouhani, who struck a deal with world powers two years ago to curb Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of economic sanctions, said the election was important “for Iran’s future role in the region and the world”.
“Whoever wins the election, we should help him to fulfill this important and serious duty,” state news agency IRNA quoted him as saying after voting.
Raisi asked voters at the polls on Friday to accept the result as legal. He said that if the outcome of the elections does not match the candidate’s wishes, “this should not disrupt the electoral process”.
Rouhani campaigned on the platform of an active foreign policy meant to enhance international relations, while Raisi vowed a strong economic management towards the elimination of poverty and unemployment.
Six presidential candidates were approved by the Guardian Council, an influential clerical body controlled by conservatives, but two of them dropped out earlier this week.
The first to withdraw was Tehran’s hardline Mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, who pledged his support for Raisi earlier this week.
He was followed by Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, a reformist, who pulled out to smooth the path for Rouhani.
Two other contenders in the race are: former Deputy Judiciary Chief and member of Iran’s Expediency Council Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim, and former Vice President Mostafa Hashemi-Taba.
If no candidate manages to secure over 50 per cent of the votes, a runoff will take place on May 26.
Besides picking a President, Iranians were also voting to choose members of the country’s city and village councils.
Across Asia, Europe and the Americas, Iranian expatriates cast their ballots in various countries but Canada did not allow Iran to set up polling stations on its territory.