Iranian presidential election pits liberal reformer against hardliner

Iranians queue to cast their ballots in presidential elections in Tehran

Iranians have votedin the country's first presidential election since incumbent leader Hassan Rouhani signed a deal with world powers to rein in Tehran's controversial nuclear program almost two years ago.

Voting has begun in Iran's presidential election.

President Hassan Rouhani, 68, who is seeking a second term, faces three challengers, including hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56.

Rouhani campaigned on the platform of an active foreign policy meant to enhance worldwide relations, while Raisi vowed a strong economic management towards the elimination of poverty and unemployment.

In working-class southern Tehran, a bastion of conservatives, lines were shorter but many voters said they had cast their ballots for Rouhani.

Official final results are expected later on Saturday.

Rouhani played a key role in crafting the landmark agreement, which was created to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and which Rouhani promised would lead to a strengthened economy by way of USA sanctions relief. He had attributed his success to the 2015 nuclear deal signed between Iran, the United States and other countries.

Iranians families casted their votes at Iranian Consulate from 8am to 6pm.

Ahmadi said more than 40 million Iranians voted in the May 19 election - a turnout of more than 70 percent, roughly similar to the showing in the 2013 elections.

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The election was important "for Iran's future role in the region and the world", Rouhani said on Friday after voting.

Canada and Iran severed diplomatic relations in 2012 under the Harper government, and Iran still has no official diplomatic presence in Canada - such as an embassy - where Iranians can vote.

Raisi, a law professor and former prosecutor who heads an influential religious charitable foundation with vast business holdings, is seen by many as close to Khamenei.

Pro-reform candidate Mostafa Hashemitaba, who previously ran for president in 2001, and former culture minister Mostafa Mirsalim are the other two candidates in the race.

Ultimately, it is the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who holds sway over Iran's foreign policy.

"As the young people anywhere in the world, of course we want to elect a president who cares about our aspirations and leads the country towards prosperity", a young Kurdish supporter of Rouhani in Tehran told Rudaw. The Revolutionary Guards are part of Iran's Armed Forces and entrusted with the task of protecting the Islamic nature of the country.

Rouhani will have to find an accommodation with them, or end up like his reformist predecessor Mohammad Khatami, who whetted Iranians' appetite for change but failed to deliver it during two terms from 1997-2005. The reelection lead to unrest, mass arrests and killings.

Iranians will also be voting Friday for their local councils, with reformists particularly hoping to undo the conservatives' narrow majority in Tehran.

Reuters reported that Mr Rouhani was on course to win more than 50% of the vote in the first round, thus avoiding a second-round run-off.

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