Millions of Iranians voted late into the night Friday to decide whether incumbent President Hassan Rouhani deserves another four years in office after securing a landmark nuclear deal, or if the sluggish economy demands a new hard-line leader who could return the country to a more confrontational path with the West.
The Islamic Republic’s first presidential election since the 2015 nuclear accord drew surprisingly large numbers of voters to polling stations, with some reporting waiting in line for hours to cast their votes. Election officials extended voting hours at least three times at the more than 63,000 polling places to accommodate the crowds.
Four candidates remain in the race. But for most voters only two mattered, both of them clerics with very different views for the country’s future: Rouhani and hard-line law professor and former prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi.
Rouhani is a political moderate by Iranian standards, but the 68-year-old has come to embody more liberal and reform-minded Iranians’ hopes for greater political freedom at home and better relations with the outside world.
His supporters are also hoping he can make better progress on improving the economy, a key issue on the minds of the country’s 56 million eligible 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.
As Iranians head to the polls to elect a new President, the fate and impact of the nuclear agreement hangs in the balance.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, symbolically cast the election’s first vote. He called for a large turnout, saying “the country is in the hands of all people.”
In Tehran, whose liberal and affluent voters form the bedrock of support for Rouhani, lines at some precincts were much longer than those in his 2013 win. Analysts have suggested a high turnout will aid Rouhani in securing a second four-year term.
“I am happy I could vote for Rouhani,” said Zohreh Amini, a 21-year-old woman studying painting at Tehran Azad University. “He kept the shadow of war far from our country.”
Voters who spoke to The Associated Press from the cities of Bandar Abbas, Hamadan, Isfahan, Rashat, Shiraz and Tabriz also described crowded polling places.
The turnout may have spooked Raisi’s camp, who filed a complaint to authorities over what they called “election violations” even before the polls closed, according to a report by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani urged voters to elect someone who won’t be a “hostage” to Western governments and their culture.
“The next president should not be someone who makes the enemies happy when he is elected,” said Kermani, who is an adviser to Khamenei.
On May 19th voters in Iran will go to the polls to elect a new president as well as local officials. CGTN’s Jim Spellman explains.
Rouhani has history on his side in the election. No incumbent president has failed to win re-election since 1981, when Khamenei himself became president.
The 56-year-old Raisi, who heads an influential religious charitable foundation with vast business holdings, is seen by many as close to Khamenei. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.
Raisi won the support of two major clerical bodies and promised to boost welfare payments to the poor. His populist posture, anti-corruption rhetoric and get-tough reputation — bolstered by his alleged role condemning inmates to death during Iran’s 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners — hold appeal for conservative rural and working-class voters.
“Rouhani has turned our foreign policies into a mess and damaged our religion,” said Sedigheh Davoodabadi, a 59-year-old housewife in Iran’s holy city of Qom who voted for Raisi. “Rouhani gave everything to the U.S. outright” in the nuclear deal.
Both candidates urged voters to respect the outcome of the vote.
Iranian authorities say they believe the vote will exceed a 70 percent turnout.
Story by The Associated Press