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Iranians vote in hard-fought presidential election

20 Mai 2017

Iranians went to the polls Friday in their first presidential election since the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement, with early signs suggesting enthusiastic support for incumbent President Hassan Rouhani.

But in Iran, how much of a factor is this in the election?

Long lines had already formed at polling stations around the country. More than 56 million Iranians are eligible to vote in the 63,000 polling stations set up nationwide.

Iranians wait to vote in the presidential elections at a polling station in Tehran on May 19, 2017. A nuclear deal was signed between the two nations under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear policy in exchange for the worldwide sanctions to be lifted.

During weeks of campaigning, the two main candidates exchanged accusations of corruption and brutality in unprecedentedly hostile television debates.

KENYON: But most of the people I spoke with since I've gotten here have told me they're voting for Rouhani not because he's done a terrific job but because they really don't want to see a hardliner back in office. If no one candidate achieves an absolute majority - over 50% of the vote - a runoff will take place on May 26.

While the USA government would ideally prefer Rouhani to be reelected for a second term, Iranian Students Polling Agency revealed last week that while the incumbent president is in the lead, with 41 percent, his opponents are not far behind.

The election is seen by many as a verdict on Rouhani's policy of opening up Iran to the world and his efforts to rebuild its stagnant economy.

Despite the removal of nuclear-related sanctions in 2016, lingering unilateral US sanctions that target Iran's record on human rights and terrorism have kept foreign companies wary of investing in Iran, limiting the economic benefits so far.

Although nuclear-related sanctions were lifted because of the deal, other US sanctions as well as worldwide ones remain in effect. Political tradition is on his side, as all Presidents since 1985 have had a second term.

"The destiny of the country is in the hands of the people", said Khamenei talked to media after casting the votes.

He hopes Rouhani can build on his success in reducing sanctions on Iran so that he can more easily import phones and tablets.

Meanwhile, Raisi has promised to triple cash handouts to the poor, hoping to pick up voters who once supported Rouhani's populist predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

His father-in-law leads Friday prayers in Mashhad and both have seats on the Assembly of Experts that will choose the next supreme leader - a position for which Raisi himself is often rumoured to be in the running.

Behrouz Mehri/AFPSupporters of Iranian President and candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, Hassan Rouhani, attend a campaign rally in the northwestern city of Ardabil on 17 May, 2017.

However, his supporters will be aware that even if re-elected, what Rouhani can achieve may be limited by the authority wielded by Iran's Supreme Leader Khamenei, and by institutions such as the Revolutionary Guards.

After serving in a series of increasingly powerful judicial posts, Raisi was appointed by Khamenei in March 2016 to head the Imam Reza shrine.

"No matter who is elected, the victor of the election is. the Iranian nation", Khamenei said earlier this week to urge Iranians to go to the polls.

Rouhani, 68, is a moderate cleric elected in 2013 on pledges of greater personal freedoms and improved relations with the West.

Tehran governor general Hossein Hashemi said voting time for presidential and local elctions in Iran has been extended for two hours until 8 pm local time (3:30 pm GMT), APA reported citing IRNA.

Iranians vote in hard-fought presidential election