Published: Sat, May 20, 2017
Worldwide | By Gretchen Simon

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

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

Vote counting began in Iran yesterday after a high turnout in an unexpectedly tight presidential election pitting President Hassan Rouhani, who wants to normalise ties with the West, against a hardline judge who says he has already gone too far. This led to some five hours of extension in the amount of time the polls were open to accommodate everyone.

With nearly all of the votes counted, Rouhani got 22.8 million votes compared to 15.5 million for his nearest challenger, hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, according to the election committee chief Ali Asghar Ahmadi.

Lines at several major polling stations across Tehran spilled into the streets until late in the evening, prompting the Interior Ministry to extend voting hours three times. He called for a large turnout, saying "the country is in the hands of all people".

After taking the office in 2013, President Rouhani managed to conclude nuclear negotiations with the Group 5+1 (Russia, China, the US, Britain, France and Germany) which resulted in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a 159-page agreement that put certain restrictions on Iran's nuclear program in return for a lifting of the sanctions and the unfreezing of billions of dollars in Iranian assets.

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, a 68-year-old moderate cleric who spearheaded a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, has framed the election as a choice between greater civil liberties and "extremism".

Voters who spoke to The Associated Press from the cities of Bandar Abbas, Hamadan, Isfahan, Rashat, Shiraz and Tabriz also described crowded polling places.

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Electoral decisions in Iran are taken by its most powerful political body, the Guardian Council.

Iranians yearning for more freedom at home and less isolation overseas have emphatically re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, throwing down a challenge to the conservative clergy that still holds ultimate sway.

"This is a polarized election - a race between powerful unelected centers of power and the rest of the country", said analyst Hamid Farahvashian.

In the course of a bitterly-fought election campaign, Raisi enjoyed strong support from Iran's Revolutionary Guard security force while Rouhani, regarded as a pro-reform candidate, appealed to voters who favored engagement over isolationism. Meanwhile, there was little progress on giving Iranians more freedom at home to gather, communicate and dress as they please.

Although considered a moderate by Iranian standards, Rouhani was nonetheless the favorite pick for those seeking more liberal reforms in the conservative Islamic Republic. "It might cause protests similar to those in 2009, as different walks of the society, desiring evolution inside the establishment, have united against Raisi".

Iran's Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was among the first to cast his ballot and urged others to do the same.

Every incumbent President has been re-elected in Iran since 1985, when Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself won a second term.

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