Iran: Rouhani leads initial count; over 70 per cent turnout

He hopes Rouhani can build on his success in reducing sanctions on Iran so that he can more easily import phones and tablets.

Iranian women cast their ballots for the presidential elections at a polling station at the Lorzadeh mosque in southern Tehran on May 19, 2017.

Polls had initially been slated to close at 6 p.m., but were extended until 8 accommodate “a rush of voters”. Many say they are yet to see the benefits of the nuclear deal, which saw Iran limit its contested nuclear program over the objection of hard-liners in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions. Rowhani faces three challengers – the strongest among them being hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56.

The deal ended the harshest sanctions ever imposed and brought Iran out of the diplomatic isolation it entered under Rouhani’s mercurial predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iran bars domestic and worldwide observers from the elections, bucking a widely accepted principle around the world that global watchdogs warn can allow for fraud.

No Iranian president has failed to win re-election since 1985.

Rouhani, considered a moderate, was a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States, the European Union and other partners.

The outcome will impact the implementation of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal, undermined by the US Trump administration, although still kept on track.

At a campaign rally last week at the Azadi stadium in Tehran, Rouhani took to the stage and delivered a speech more worthy of an outsider than the incumbent.

Born into a religious family in the Shia Muslim holy city of Mashhad on August 23, 1960, Raisi wears the black turban of a “seyed” whose genealogy is said to lead back to Prophet Mohammed.

Raisi has tried to gain support by promising more financial support to the working class and to triple cash handouts to the poor.

But with such high stakes this round, particularly as the question of the supreme leader’s succession gets serious, Iran’s political future looks uncertain.

He has done this “perhaps as a form of strategic ambiguity”, Sabet said, which is “intended to keep negative attention focused on his rival”.

The supreme leader’s criticisms have, among the Iranian public, bolstered claims spread by Raisi’s camp that the current government under Rouhani promotes homosexuality and masturbation.

“The enthusiastic participation of Iranians in the election reinforces our national power and security”, he said, as polling stations reported morning queues were far bigger than usual.

Elsewhere, people chanted as pro-reform leader and former president, Mohammad Khatami, cast his ballot.

There is a lot at stake, not just for those who want Iran to open up to the world and for the new President to push a reform agenda, but also those in the clergy who want to shun the West and continue the Islamic Revolution rhetoric.

Mir Hossein Mousavi has been under house arrest for the past eight years but his name is still chanted at rallies and he remains an icon for the country’s modernizers.

The president of the Islamic Republic oversees a vast state bureaucracy employing more than 2 million people, is charged with naming Cabinet members and other officials to key posts, and plays a significant role in shaping both domestic and foreign policy.

Four candidates remain in the race. Even Maj. Gen. Ali Jafari, the commander of Iran’s Basij paramilitary force, which is known for its brutality in suppressing demonstrations, was shown casting a ballot Friday.

Polling stations across Iran opened at 8am local time on Friday around the country with another high voter turnout expected. The results are expected 24 hours after the polls close.

“Any candidate who is elected should be helped to accomplish this heavy responsibility”, Rouhani said.