TEHERAN, 14 JUNE: Iranians were today voting for a new president in an election that reformists hope to win with the conservatives riven by division, four years after the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Dozens of men and women, in separate queues, were seen outside polling stations as they opened at 8 a.m. (0330 GMT). Voting continues until 6 p.m. but that could be extended if there is a big turnout.
More than 50.5 million people are eligible to vote for the man ~ no women candidates were approved ~ to succeed Mr Ahmadinejad, who is barred from standing for a third consecutive term under the constitution.
At the same time as choosing a new president from six candidates, voters will also pick municipal councillors.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called for a large turnout but not publicly stated his preference for any single candidate, voted early. “Inshallah (God willing), the Iranian people will create a new political epic. I advise all people to vote,” said the Iranian leader after casting his ballot. He also attacked US criticism of the credibility of the presidential poll.
His remarks were echoed by Ayatollah Ahmad Janati, head of the hardline Guardians Council electoral watchdog, who said voters “were poking their fingers in the eye of the enemy".
If no candidate secures more than half of the votes to win outright today, a second round will be held a week later.
The first results are expected tomorrow.
With the conservative camp divided, reformists seem confident of a good showing by moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani, who has emerged as a frontrunner with a real chance of forcing a run-off, analysts say.
A pack of three heads the conservatives ~ former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and the Islamic republic’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.
Both sides, reformist and conservative, have appealed for the electorate to turn out in high numbers ~ the first hoping for change and the other to show the power of a regime accused of seeking to ensure victory for a Khamenei loyalist.
“It’s a duty. I hope the next president can do something for us, and for the workers. I will vote for Qalibaf because he is a good mayor. I hope the promises he made will come true,” said a 50-year-old woman in a voting queue, who declined to give her name.
Former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani who was disqualified from running, urged a large turnout, which analysts say will increase the chances of Rowhani putting up a credible showing against the conservatives. “We hope the election result will lead to national cohesion … since cohesion is a requirement for success against foreign and domestic dangers,” said Mr Rafsanjani, who has thrown his weight behind Mr Rowhani.
For both reformists and conservatives, the key today will be to mobilise abstentionists who demonstrated against Mr Ahmadinejad’s re-election in 2009, alleging massive electoral fraud.
The authorities cracked down hard on deadly street unrest sparked by that result, leading to the eventual detention under house arrest of two reformist candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi.
Khamenei to US critics: ‘The hell with you’
TEHRAN, 14 JUNE: Iran’s top leader has sharp words for US critics of his country’s presidential election, which just got underway. “Recently I have heard that a US security official has said they do not accept this election. OK, the hell with you,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in remarks broadcast by Iran state television. He spoke shortly after casting his vote this morning. ap