Iran: Rouhani leads initial count; over 70 percent turnout

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Iranians headed to the polls on Friday to vote in a presidential election as incumbent Hassan Rouhani prepares to seek a second term in the face of conservative opposition.

Some 63,500 polling stations opened at 8 a.m. on Friday in the country where more than 56 million were eligible to vote. Officials plan to announce exact voter turnout later today. Raisi, however, appears to have done well enough to avoid humiliation, allowing him to pursue future opportunities at the ballot box or justify being promoted in unelected bodies.

Rouhani had urged the Guards not to meddle in the vote, a warning that reflects the political tension.

He was followed by Vice-President Eshaq Jahangiri, a reformist, who pulled out to smooth the path for Rouhani.

"The presidential vote is very important".

Raisi, a former member of the so-called death commissions involved in the summary executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s, has echoed Khamenei's and other hard-liners' calls for self-sufficiency to improve the economy, and he has alleged that Rohani has significantly worsened inequalities in Iranian society. Other well-connected media personalities close to Raisi also conceded.

That hasn't stopped those at Rouhani rallies from shouting for the release of the house-arrested leaders of the 2009 Green Movement. Iranians are usually quick to celebrate such victories, mainly by honking auto horns or dancing in streets or distributing candies.

Ballot counting was to start at midnight.

"The wide mobilisation of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote", said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

According to the Interior Ministry, the election process involves around 1.5 million executive forces and monitors, 350,000 security forces, 70,000 inspectors, and around 100,000 representatives of local governors.

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Iranians overseas also will vote in over 300 locations, including 55 in the USA, where more than 1 million Iranians live.

The governor of the northern province of Gilan was quoted as saying the turnout there was 80%. "He is not a reformist but a bridge between hardliners and reformists", said a former senior official.

By the assessment of a source talking to Reuters, 37 million had been counted by this evening, with 21.6 million voting for Rouhani, meaning he's going to get a majority, and the only question remaining is how big of a majority he will manage when all is said and done.

Exit polls indicate that Raeisi and Rouhani are leading the election for the Iranian presidency.

Speaking after casting his vote, the Leader said, "I thank God Almighty for the blessing of democracy and people's participation in the election". Also voting yesterday was Iran's eminent poet, Houshang Ebtehaj. Millions of Iranians voted late. Analysts have suggested a high turnout will aid Rouhani in securing a second four-year term.

State television congratulated Rouhani on his victory.

Preliminary results are expected early Saturday. "Celebration for our republic", read the front page headline of the hardline Vatan-e-Emrooz newspaper.

(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi). Voters fill in their ballots while voting for the presidential and municipal councils election at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, Friday, May 19, 2017.

Many voters at the NY polling booth had to take the day off work to cast their ballots.

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