Ira­ni­ans cast their bal­lots

Kingston Whig-Standard - - WORLD NEWS - ADAM SCHRECK and NASSER KARIMI

TEHRAN, Iran — Mil­lions of Ira­ni­ans voted late into the night Fri­day to de­cide whether in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani de­serves an­other four years in of­fice af­ter se­cur­ing a land­mark nu­clear deal, or if the slug­gish econ­omy de­mands a new hard-line leader who could re­turn the coun­try to a more con­fronta­tional path with the West.

The Is­lamic Repub­lic’s first pres­i­den­tial elec­tion since the 2015 nu­clear ac­cord drew sur­pris­ingly large num­bers of vot­ers to polling sta­tions, with some re­port­ing wait­ing in line for hours to cast their votes. Elec­tion of­fi­cials ex­tended vot­ing hours at least three times at the more than 63,000 polling places to ac­com­mo­date the crowds.

Four can­di­dates re­main in the race. But for most vot­ers only two mat­tered, both of them cler­ics with very dif­fer­ent views for the coun­try’s fu­ture: Rouhani and hard-line law pro­fes­sor and for­mer pros­e­cu­tor Ebrahim Raisi.

Rouhani is a po­lit­i­cal mod­er­ate by Ira­nian stan­dards, but the 68-year-old has come to em­body more lib­eral and re­form-minded Ira­ni­ans’ hopes for greater po­lit­i­cal free­dom at home and bet­ter re­la­tions with the out­side world.

His sup­port­ers are also hop­ing he can make bet­ter progress on im­prov­ing the econ­omy, a key is­sue on the minds of the coun­try’s 56 mil­lion el­i­gi­ble vot­ers. Many say they are yet to see the ben­e­fits of the nu­clear deal, which saw Iran limit its con­tested nu­clear pro­gram over the ob­jec­tion of hard­lin­ers in ex­change for the lift­ing of some sanc­tions.

Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei, the most pow­er­ful man in Iran, sym­bol­i­cally cast the elec­tion’s first vote. He called for a large turnout, say­ing “the coun­try is in the hands of all peo­ple.”

In Tehran, whose lib­eral and af­flu­ent vot­ers form the bedrock of sup­port for Rouhani, lines at some precincts were much longer than those in his 2013 win. An­a­lysts have sug­gested a high turnout will aid Rouhani in se­cur­ing a sec­ond four-year term.

“I am happy I could vote for Rouhani,” said Zohreh Amini, a 21-year-old woman study­ing paint­ing at Tehran Azad Univer­sity. “He kept the shadow of war far from our coun­try.”

Vot­ers who spoke to The Associated Press from the cities of Ban­dar Ab­bas, Ha­madan, Is­fa­han, Rashat, Shi­raz and Tabriz also de­scribed crowded polling places.

The turnout may have spooked Raisi’s camp, who filed a com­plaint to au­thor­i­ties over what they called “elec­tion vi­o­la­tions” even be­fore the polls closed, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by the semi-of­fi­cial Tas­nim news agency.

Tehran Fri­day prayer leader Ay­a­tol­lah Mo­ham­mad Ali Mo­va­hedi Ker­mani urged vot­ers to elect some­one who won’t be a “hostage” to Western gov­ern­ments and their cul­ture.

“The next pres­i­dent should not be some­one who makes the en­e­mies happy when he is elected,” said Ker­mani, who is an ad­viser to Khamenei.

Rouhani has his­tory on his side in the elec­tion. No in­cum­bent pres­i­dent has failed to win re-elec­tion since 1981, when Khamenei him­self be­came pres­i­dent.

The 56-year-old Raisi, who heads an in­flu­en­tial re­li­gious char­i­ta­ble foun­da­tion with vast busi­ness hold­ings, is seen by many as close to Khamenei. Raisi has even been dis­cussed as a pos­si­ble suc­ces­sor, though Khamenei has stopped short of en­dors­ing any­one.

Raisi won the sup­port of two ma­jor cler­i­cal bod­ies and promised to boost wel­fare pay­ments to the poor. His pop­ulist pos­ture, anti-cor­rup­tion rhetoric and get-tough rep­u­ta­tion — bol­stered by his al­leged role con­demn­ing inmates to death dur­ing Iran’s 1988 mass ex­e­cu­tion of thou­sands of po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers — hold ap­peal for con­ser­va­tive ru­ral and work­ing-class vot­ers.

“Rouhani has turned our for­eign poli­cies into a mess and dam­aged our re­li­gion,” said Sedigheh Davood­abadi, a 59-year-old house­wife in Iran’s holy city of Qom who voted for Raisi. “Rouhani gave ev­ery­thing to the U.S. out­right” in the nu­clear deal.

Both can­di­dates urged vot­ers to re­spect the out­come of the vote.

Mostafa Hashemitaba, a prore­form fig­ure who pre­vi­ously ran for pres­i­dent in 2001, and Mostafa Mir­salim, a for­mer cul­ture min­is­ter, also re­main in the race.

Ira­ni­ans over­seas were also vot­ing in over 300 lo­ca­tions, in­clud­ing 55 in the U.S., where more than 1 mil­lion Ira­ni­ans live.

VAHID SALEMI/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

A voter flashes a vic­tory sign with her inked fin­ger while vot­ing for the pres­i­den­tial and mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils elec­tion at a polling sta­tion in Tehran, Iran, Fri­day. Mil­lions of Ira­ni­ans voted late into the night Fri­day to de­cide whether in­cum­bent Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani de­serves an­other four years in of­fice af­ter se­cur­ing a land­mark nu­clear deal, or if the slug­gish econ­omy de­mands a new hard-line leader who could re­turn the coun­try to a more con­fronta­tional path with the West.

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