Supreme leader urges Iranians to turn out in force to elect new president
Khameni calls on voters to discredit US charge that poll is a sham
A cleric fills in his ballot paper during the Iranian presidential election at a mosque in Qom
Millions of Iranians have voted to choose a new president, urged by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to turn out in force to discredit suggestions by arch foe the United States that the election would be a sham.
The 50 million eligible voters had a choice yesterday between six candidates to replace incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Having been vetted by Iran’s electoral authorities, none is seen as a challenge to the Islamic Republic’s 34-year-old system of clerical rule.
Polling stations closed five hours later than planned in the capital Tehran because of what Iranian state media reported were large queues of people waiting to cast their vote. Voting was extended by four hours across the rest of the country.
With authorities estimating a turnout of more than 70 per cent, final results are unlikely to be announced until today.
The first presidential election since a disputed 2009 contest led to months of unrest is unlikely to change rocky ties between the West and the Opec nation of 75 million, but it may bring a softening of the antagonistic style favoured by Mr Ahmadinejad.
World powers in talks with Iran over its nuclear programme are looking for any signs of a recalibration of its negotiating stance after eight years of intransigence.
Voting in the capital Tehran, the supreme leader called on Iranians to vote in large numbers and derided western misgivings about the credibility of the vote.
“I recently heard that someone at the US National Security Council said ‘we do not accept this election in Iran’,” he said. “We don’t give a damn.”
On May 24th, US secretary of state John Kerry questioned the credibility of the poll, criticising the disqualification of candidates and accusing Tehran of disrupting internet access.
All the remaining contenders, except chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, have criticised the conduct of diplomacy that has left Iran increasingly isolated and under painful economic sanctions.
“Everyone should respect the name that comes out of the ballot boxes and the person people choose,” said Mr Jalili, according to ISNA news agency.
Hossein, a 27-year-old voter in Tehran who belongs to the hardline Basij volunteer militia, said he would vote for Mr Jalili (47) – the supreme leader’s national security adviser and a former Revolutionary Guard who lost a leg in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.
“He is the only one I can trust to respect the values of the revolution . . . He feels and cares for the needy,” said Hossein.
On the other end of the political spectrum, many liberal-minded Iranians backed Hassan Rohani, the only cleric in the race. A moderate conservative, he has courted support from reformists by offering a progressive policy agenda.
“I am a reformist and at best he is only a moderate but I voted for him because he is the best we have got at this point,” said Sara, who cast her vote in northern Tehran. – (Reuters)