Iranians voted in a presidential election on Friday amid concerns over a low turnout with the conservative head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, widely seen as the frontrunner.
Nearly 60 million eligible voters in Iran will decide the fate of four candidates in the fray to succeed President Hassan Rouhani.
The Guardian Council, a 12-member constitutional vetting body under Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, barred hundreds of candidates including reformists and those aligned with Rouhani.
Polls opened at 7am local time (2:30 GMT) and will close at midnight (19:30 GMT) but can be extended for two hours. The results are expected midday on Saturday.
After casting his vote in the capital Tehran, Ayatollah Khamenei urged Iranians to do the same saying “each vote counts … come and vote and choose your president”.
With uncertainty surrounding Iran’s efforts to revive its 2015 nuclear deal and growing poverty at home after years of United States sanctions, the turnout for the vote is being seen by Iranian analysts as a referendum on the current leadership’s handling of an array of crises.
Voter enthusiasm was dampened by the disqualification of many candidates and the deep economic malaise, which has sparked burgeoning inflation and job losses – the crisis deepened by the COVID pandemic.“I’m not a politician, I don’t know anything about politics,” a Tehran car mechanic who gave his name as Nasrollah said. “I have no money. All families are now facing economic problems. How can we vote for these people who did this to us? It’s not right.”
“The general public has one thing on their mind that they want some change from the moderate and reformist government they have seen over the past eight years,” she said.
“There is a sense that the economic situation in the country is not going to change any time soon. So they are hoping Raisi will bring some kind of change.”
Iranian opposition groups abroad and some dissidents at home have urged a boycott of the vote they see as an engineered victory for Raisi.
But many queued to vote at schools, mosques and community centres, some carrying Iran’s green, white and red national flag.
State-linked opinion polling and analysts put the hardliner Raisi, 60, as the undisputed frontrunner.
A win for Raisi would confirm the political demise of pragmatist politicians such as Rouhani, weakened by the US decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.
But it would not disrupt Iran’s bid to revive the agreement and break free of tough oil and financial sanctions, Iranian officials say, with the country’s ruling elite aware their political fortunes rely on tackling worsening economic hardship.
Former central bank chief, Abdolnaser Hemmati, is running as the race’s moderate candidate but has not inspired the same support as Rouhani, who is term-limited from seeking the office again.
“Elections are important despite the problems and issues… I wish we didn’t have any of those problems since the registration day,” said Rouhani after casting his vote, a clear reference to the rejection of prominent moderate and conservative candidates from the race by the hardline election body.
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