Iranians Head to the Polls in Presidential Election

Supporters of Iranian President and candidate in the upcoming presidential elections Hassan Rouhani attend a campaign rally in the northwestern city of Ardabil

A look at Iran's presidential candidates

There are about 56 million eligible Iranians and they can vote at one of 63,500 polling stations across the country. He will not confront the leader if elected. "I think we're heading in that direction with the OPEC deal and rebalancing more widely but in terms of Iran the question is now really can its exports grow from current levels, can they stay at current levels or do they actually fall back?" asked Mallinson. "Both might be reformist candidates for the next presidency", Sam added. The average Iranian has yet to see the benefits of the deal, which saw Iran limit its contested nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.

An initial field of over 1,600 hopefuls registered to run in the election. Iranians, in addition to electing the president, will vote for the candidates of City and Village Councils, too.

A Tehran psychologist, Maryam Mirzaie, said that even without much evidence of social change and progress on women's rights, she would respect calls by the opposition leaders and reformist former president Mohammad Khatami to vote for Rouhani.

He is believed to have the backing of the powerful Revolutionary Guards security force, as well as the tacit support of Khamenei, whose powers outrank those of the elected president, but who normally steers clear of day-to-day politics.

A second presidential term for Rouhani could ease the way for Iran to push ahead with planned gas pipeline links to Iraq, Oman, Kuwait and Pakistan, and even to fill an existing undersea pipeline to the UAE, which has sat empty for more than a decade.

Rouhani, 68, who swept into office four years ago promising to open Iran to the world and give its citizens more freedom at home, faces an unexpectedly strong challenge from Ebrahim Raisi, a protege of supreme leader Ali Khamenei.

Raisi is perceived to be close to Khamenei as the supreme leader put him in charge of Astan Quds Razavi, a vast charitable foundation encompassing businesses and endowments that oversees the holy Shiite shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad. Raisi has said he won't seek to tear up the nuclear deal.

Raisi won the support of two major clerical bodies and promised to boost welfare payments to the poor. He was a judge in the "death commissions" which sent thousands of political prisoners to the gallows and firing squads in the 1980s and there are many who remember those grim times.

Surprisingly, Islam. "Candidates have seemingly concluded that Islamic ideology has lost its power as a driving factor among voters and is therefore not worth addressing", wrote Mehdi Khalaji, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who is Shiite theologian by training. Will Rouhani get another chance to prove his efficiency? or Conservative Raisi will take over and as speculated by many experts, impact the nuclear deal and peace in West Asia?

This year is already looking like a success for the regime, with massive queues reported at polling stations across the country. A voter must show their national ID card and fill out a form.

Authorities have announced that due to huge participation of people and long lines at polling stations, voting time is extended for two more hours until 2200 hours. Reformist-Activist Mostafa Tajzadeh was quoted by FP, saying that although he is anxious that promise of cash might influence the poor and unemployed voters, he also points out how the Iranian middle-class and liveral voters are unenthusiastic about the elections. Polls now are expected to close at 10 p.m. Iran bars domestic and worldwide observers from the elections, bucking a widely accepted principle around the world that global watchdogs warn can allow for fraud.

Suspicions that the Guards and the Basij militia under their control falsified voting results in favor of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led to eight months of nationwide protests in 2009. "They should heed the importance of this task", he said.

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