Iran: Rouhani leads initial count; over 70 percent turnout

Iran: Rouhani leads initial count; over 70 percent turnout

Iranians vote on Friday in a bitter presidential contest between pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani and hardline challenger Ebrahim Raisi that could determine the pace of economic and social reform and Iran's re-engagement with the world.

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's state television has declared incumbent President Hassan Rouhani the victor of the country's presidential election, giving him a second four-year term to see out his agenda calling for greater freedoms and outreach to the wider world.

Ahmadi says the initial vote count has the moderate cleric Rouhani with 14.6 million votes. There were about four million more votes still to be tallied, the source said.

However, Reuters reported that President Hassan Rouhani has an unassailable lead in Iran's presidential election.

In Iran, election officials had to extend voting hours at least three times to accommodate the surge of voters. Elections were also simultaneously held for City and Village Councils. Though polls had predicted the vote would be closer, signs are that the heavy turnout strongly favored the reformist, and dealt a major blow to the hardliner. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.

Despite the removal of nuclear-related sanctions in 2016, lingering unilateral USA sanctions that target Iran's record on human rights and terrorism have kept foreign companies wary of investing, limiting the economic benefits so far.

Rouhani, meanwhile, is essentially running for re-election as an outsider, and is backed by Iran's reformist camp.

Speaking after casting his vote, the Leader said, "I thank God Almighty for the blessing of democracy and people's participation in the election".

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Voting time was extended by five hours, until midnight, amid an unexpectedly high turnout of about 70%.

Rouhani hit back in a sharper campaign strategy to mobilize Iranian women and young people who became jaded about the vote after losing hope in his ability to ease religious repression in society as promised in 2013, when he won by a landslide.

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

Rouhani, considered a moderate, was a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal with the USA, the European Union and other partners.

If no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the top two, presumably Rouhani and Raisi, will face each other a second time in a run-off in a week.

All candidates for elected office must be vetted, a process that excludes anyone calling for radical change, along with most reformists.

That hasn't stopped those at Rouhani rallies from shouting for the release of the house-arrested leaders of the 2009 Green Movement. Former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, one of Iran's most popular and influential politicians, received 20m (69.6%) in 1997. But he remains subordinate to the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.

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