Iranians head to the polls to elect new president

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem

Iranian voters go to the polls Friday in a presidential election in which ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi is seen as all but certain to coast to victory over his vetted rivals.

There were no official estimates of the turnout from Iran's Interior Ministry as polling stations closed at 2 a.m. Saturday local time.

As old and new USA sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted.

But the election of an Iranian head of government now under United States sanctions could alarm Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts of Iranian politics said, especially given President Joe Biden's sharpened focus on human rights globally. More than 59 million Iranians are eligible to vote.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast the first vote just after 7:00 am (0230 GMT) at a specially installed ballot box at a mosque adjoining his offices in the capital.

But hundreds of Iranians, including prominent politicians and relatives of dissidents killed since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, have called for an election boycott. "That is why the ruling system has always put emphasis on voter participation and used all possible means to bring people to the polls".

"My vote is a big NO to the Islamic Republic", said Farzaneh, 58, from the central city of Yazd.

A win for Raisi would confirm the political demise of pragmatist politicians like Rouhani, weakened by the USA decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country - as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Rezaei's concession in a post on Twitter came as Iran's outgoing President Hassan Rouhani also acknowledged the victor in the polling was "clear" though he did not immediately name Raisi as his successor.

Iranians head to the polls to elect new president

Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and Raisi himself has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.

A supporter of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi shows her hand with writing in Persian that reads "Raisi", during a rally in Tehran, Iran, June 16, 2021.

On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote. The stakes are high: the victor of this election will lead Iran through a pandemic, intense economic sanctions, runaway inflation, and the ongoing negotiations to restore the nuclear deal.

President Joe Biden's administration has said it could ease the sanctions if Iran agreed to resume curbs on nuclear activities that could be weaponized.

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.

Trump said the JCPOA did not do enough to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons - a goal it denies having - or engaging in other objectionable activities.

Khamenei also served as president when he took over in 1989 from the Islamic republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Raisi has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.

"If Khamenei deems Raisi a success, I think he will propose Raisi to succeed him".

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