An Iranian man living in Iraq votes for presidential election, at a polling station in Najaf on Friday. AFP
State-linked opinion polling and analysts put hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi as the dominant front-runner in a field of just four candidates. 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 the office again.
If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the US 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.
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his vote in Tehran on Friday. Reuters
It also would firmly put hard-liners in control across the Iranian government as negotiations in Vienna continue over trying to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers, as it enriches uranium to the closest point yet to weapons-grade levels.
Tensions remain high with both the US 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.
Ebrahim Raisi, a candidate in Iran's presidential elections, casts his vote at a polling station in Tehran on Friday. AP
Polls opened at 7am local time for the vote, which has seen widespread public apathy after a panel under Khamenei barred hundreds of candidates, including reformists and those aligned with Rouhani. Khamenei cast the ceremonial vote from Tehran, where he urged the public to take part.
"Through the participation of the people the country and the Islamic ruling system will win great points in the international arena, but the ones who benefit first are the people themselves," Khamenei said. "Go ahead, choose and vote.”
Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, later voted from a mosque in southern Tehran, waving to those gathered to cast ballots. The cleric acknowledged in comments afterward that some may be "so upset that they don’t want to vote.”
An Iranian woman casts her ballot for presidential election at a polling station in Tehran on Friday. AFP
"I beg everyone, the lovely youths, and all Iranian men and women speaking any accent or language from any region and with any political views, to go and vote and cast their ballots,” Raisi said.
There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation home to over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout of just 42%, which would be the lowest ever since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
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