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People formed long queues across the country to vote in the Friday elections.
People formed long queues across the country to vote in the Friday elections.

Iran Presidential Election: Record Turnout in Crucial Vote

The vote is a choice between whether to give the incumbent government a stronger mandate to push ahead with much-needed economic reforms and build international engagement and a rival camp that says domestic potential should be exploited to revive the ail

Iran Presidential Election: Record Turnout in Crucial Vote

Millions of voters converged on the  polling stations Friday to decide the outcome of a fiercely contested race between two competing visions. The choice was whether to hand pragmatic Hassan Rouhani a stronger mandate to push through much-needed reforms, or give a chance to principlist Ebrahim Raeisi who believes the incumbent and his aides have mismanaged  the economy. Rouhani, 68, is a staunch supporter of broader international engagement and liberal economic reforms.
His four years in office is defined by the landmark July 2015 nuclear deal with the six world powers. The agreement, among other things, is aimed at attracting foreign investment and high-tech to rebuild the stagnant economy.
Rouhani has made a campaign promise to work toward the removal of "all the remaining (US) sanctions" hampering economic ties with Europe and Asia.
The president faced stiff competition from Raeisi, 57, a long-serving member of the judiciary and current custodian of Astan Qods Razavi, the huge conglomerate in charge of the holy shrine of Imam Reza (PBUH), the eight Shia imam.
Although announcing that he will uphold the nuclear pact should he win, Raeisi has pointed to the economic difficulties  as proof that Rouhani's diplomatic efforts have failed and has advocated an "inward-looking" policy for reviving the sluggish economy.   

The cleric has also pledged to boost welfare benefits for the poor, create millions of jobs and fight corruption.
 
  Long Queues
Weeks-long campaigns whipped up heated emotions and pushed public debates among the 56-million-strong electorate in the country of 80 million.
Shortly after voting in high-stakes event began at 8 a.m. local time, unusually long queues formed outside polling stations in mosques and schools around the capital and other major cities, IRNA reported.  
Across the country, over 71,000 election monitors were deployed at nearly 130,000 ballot boxes and more than 300,000 police officers were stationed to ensure security of  63,000 polling places.
Over 2.5 million Iranian expatriates could also go to 131 stations in 103 countries to cast their ballots.
The contest initially saw six candidates approval by the Guardians Council, a powerful body in charge of supervising the polls. Two of them stepped aside earlier in the week.
The first was principlist Tehran Mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, who pledged support for Raeisi on Monday, and the second was reformist Vice President Es’haq Jahangiri, who withdrew a day later to ease the path for Rouhani on Tuesday.
The two other remaining in the race are pro-reform Mostafa Hashemitaba, a 71-year-old former vice president, and principlist-minded Mostafa Mirsalim, a 70-year-old former culture minister.
They were both low-profile figures during the campaign period and are not expected to bag more than a few percent of the total votes cast.
  Decisive Decision
Leader of Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei cast his ballot soon after polls opened and urged the people to come out and vote in large numbers.
“The presidential vote is very important. The fate of the country is in the hands of people who choose their chief executive,” he told reporters after voting.
The Interior Ministry, the body in charge of organizing elections, announced last Wednesday that the returns would be announced gradually as the counting process goes forward.
It came despite a Tuesday announcement by Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli that the election results would be declared after all the votes were counted. Voting was scheduled to run until 6 p.m., but was extended for several hours as many voters were seen waiting in long lines.
Ballot counting was to start at midnight. The first partial results were expected in the early hours of Saturday and the final tally by Saturday noon.
The odds-on favorite is Rouhani, as no Iranian president who finished his first term has ever failed in his reelection bid and his challenger Raeisi is a political neophyte.
Whoever wins will apparently face a more confrontational US under hawkish Donald Trump, who has described the nuclear accord as a “disaster” and has revived a nearly forgotten mantra of previous US administrations that “nothing is off the table” when it comes to Iran, including the military option.
The second round will be held  next Friday if needed, but it is unlikely that one of the two top contenders will not win more than 50% of the vote.
The presidential poll was held concurrent with the nation-wide city and village council votes and also midterm parliamentary elections in four constituencies.
For the first time, ballot boxes for the city council votes were replaced by voting machines in one-sixth of the polling stations, covering 141 mid-sized cities home to one-third of eligible voters.

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