Iranians head to the polls to elect new president

  • Iranians head to the polls to elect new president

Iranians head to the polls to elect new president

After a lacklustre campaign, turnout was expected to fall to a new low in a country exhausted by a punishing regime of USA economic sanctions that has dashed the hopes of many for a brighter future.

It's election day in Iran and for many, the question is not who to vote for, but whether to vote at all.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast the first vote in Iran, signaling the opening of the country's presidential election.

The establishment's religiously devout core supporters are expected to vote for Raisi, a mid-ranking Shia Muslim cleric who lost to Rouhani in 2017. 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 program decades earlier.

But hundreds of Iranians, including prominent politicians and relatives of dissidents killed since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, have called for an election boycott.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran's internationally criticized judiciary - one of the world's top executioners.

But the president of the Islamic republic, as the top official of the state bureaucracy, also wields significant influence in fields from industrial policy to foreign affairs.

Rouhani's key achievement was the landmark 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran pledged to limit its nuclear programme and refrain from acquiring the atomic bomb in return for sanctions relief. He said he backs Iran's talks with the US and other powers to revive the nuclear deal. The economy nosedived and spiraling prices fueled repeated bouts of social unrest, which were put down by security forces. Former Central Bank chief, Abdolnasser Hemmati, is running as the race's moderate candidate but hasn't inspired the same support as outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who is term-limited from seeking office again.

"For the first time since the foundation of the Islamic republic, the election of the president will take place without any real competition", wrote former French ambassador Michel Duclos in a commentary for Paris think-tank the Institut Montaigne.

"I will vote for Raisi because he is the most capable candidate to bring back the country to our revolutionary values", said Mohammad Hosseini from the Shia holy city of Mashhad.

Polling stations are to stay open no less than 17 hours, until midnight (19:30 GMT), with the option of extending it for another two hours, to extract every possible vote.

Iranian state media asserted Friday that voter turnout was high.