More than 59 million eligible voters in Iran will face the fate of four candidates to succeed President Hassan Rouhani.
Polls have been opened in Iran’s presidential election amid concerns over low turnout with the conservative head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, widely seen as the frontrunner.
Nearly 60 million eligible voters in Iran will take the fate of four candidates in the race to succeed President Hassan Rouhani. The Guardian Council, a 12-member constitutional body under opposition leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, has banned hundreds of candidates, including reformers and those who agree with Rouhani.
Polling stations opened at 07:00 local time and will close at 1930 GMT, but can be extended by two hours. The results are expected around noon on Saturday.
With uncertainty surrounding Iran’s efforts to revive its 2015 nuclear deal and growing poverty at home, after years of US sanctions, the turnout is seen by Iranian analysts as a referendum on the leadership’s handling of a variety of crises.
“Every vote counts … come vote and elect your president … it is important for the future of your country,” Khamenei said after casting his vote in the capital Tehran.
State television showed long queues outside polling stations in several cities.
State-linked opinion polls and analysts saw Judicial Chief Justice Raisi, 60, as the forerunner. If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president to be sanctioned by the US government, even before taking office over his involvement in the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners, as well as his time as head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary – one of the world’s best executions.
Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies himself in the Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s prophet Mohammed, later votes from a mosque in southern Tehran and waves to those gathered to vote.
A victory for Raisi would confirm the political downfall of pragmatist politicians like Rouhani, weakened by the US decision to end the nuclear deal and reintroduce sanctions in a move that is hampering rapprochement with the West.
But it will not disrupt Iran’s efforts to revive the agreement and free itself from severe oil and financial sanctions, Iranian officials say, while the country’s ruling elite is aware that their political fortunes depend on the tackling the worsening economic hardship.
Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati is running as a moderate candidate for the race, but has not inspired the same support as outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who is limited to running for office again.
The remaining two candidates are 66-year-old hardline Mohsen Rezaei and Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh, a longtime Mashhad MP.
Tensions remain high with both the US and Israel, which allegedly carried out a series of attacks on Iranian nuclear sites and killed the scientist who had created his military nuclear program decades earlier.