Published: Fri, May 19, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

Iran's presidential election begins as Supreme Leader casts vote

Iran's Leader, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei, attended Imam Khomeini's Hosseinieh at 08:00 a.m. local time and cast his votes for both elections of Iran's President and City and Villages Council.

This round of election includes incumbent president Hassan Rouhani fighting for a second term, rivaled by conservative Ebrahim Raisi, with a career in the judiciary and now the superintendent of Iran's biggest religious tourism foundation in Mashhad.

He faces stiff competition from hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who has positioned himself as a defender of the poor and called for a much tougher line with the West.

TRT World's Abubakr al Shamahi reports from Tehran. In Rouhani's case, his administration negotiated the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions.

Raisi has said he will stick by the nuclear deal but pointed to the continued economic slump as proof that Rouhani's diplomatic efforts have failed.

"The enthusiastic participation of Iranians in the election reinforces our national power and security", said Rouhani after casting his vote.

It will not have escaped Mr Rouhani, however, that Mr Trump is visiting Iran's closest rival Saudi Arabia shortly and that the US President has also ordered a review of the controversial nuclear deal.

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Iran's Interior Ministry says around 56.5 million are eligible to vote of which 1.3 million are first timers.

Rouhani was a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S., the European Union and other partners. Raisi also has offered populist promises, including monthly cash payments to Iran's poor. But he remains subordinate to the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.

Iranians overseas also will vote in over 300 locations, including 55 in the USA, where more than 1 million Iranians live.

In a warning reflecting rising political tensions amid signs of an unexpectedly close race, Rouhani urged Iran's powerful elite Revolutionary Guards, believed to support Raisi, not to meddle in the election. He could pose the biggest challenge to Rouhani, especially if he can unify hard-liners.

Polling stations across Iran opened on Friday morning for the elections.

While the nuclear deal has been at the forefront of the election, the issues of poverty and unemployment have dominated the campaign. Rouhani promised in his 2013 campaign to free the men, but that pledge so far remains unfulfilled.

Iranian authorities expect turnout to exceed 70%.

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