Tehran: 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 key election rival to Raisi is Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former central bank governor running on a moderate platform.
The Guardian Council, a 12-member constitutional vetting body barred hundreds of candidates including some high profile reformists and hardliners sparking fears that the move may dampen the voter spirits and affect the turnout.
Polls opened at 7am local time (2:30 GMT) and closed at midnight. The results are expected midday on Saturday.
With uncertainty surrounding Iran’s efforts to revive its 2015 nuclear deal and dwindling economy after years of US 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.
After casting his vote in the capital Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei urged Iranians to do the same saying “each vote counts … come and vote and choose your president”.
Addressing the people after casting his vote, President Rouhani, who is barred by the constitution from contesting for the third term, said Iran was among a few countries in the world whose elections attract international attention.
He said, “People should be mindful that the whole world is today focused on the ballot boxes and the people’s queues to cast their votes. God willing, we will act in a way that it will make our friends across the world happy and frustrate enemies.”
An Al Jazeera’ correspondent, reporting from the Tehran, said there is lot of support behind Raisi.
“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.”
West backed 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.
“Based on the polls Raisi has between 60 to 75 percent popularity among those who will vote today,” said Hamid Reza Gholamzadeh, CEO of Diplo House think tank.
“The lowest turnout predicted is around 43 percent which isn’t a low turnout for Iran especially due to the pandemic. Something between 40 to 60 is usual for presidential elections,” said Gholamzadeh.
Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shia tradition as a direct descendant of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), later voted from a mosque in southern Tehran, waving to those gathered to cast ballots.
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.
Tensions remain high with both the United States and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites and assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic programme decades earlier.
Raisi – who like his political patron the supreme leader is an implacable critic of the West – is under US sanctions for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners decades ago.
On Friday alongside presidential polls Iran also held city council, midterm parliamentary, and Assembly of Experts elections simultaneously.
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