Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei cast his ballot in Tehran Friday for the presidential election, officially opening the polls, an AFP reporter said.
Nearly 60 million eligible voters can cast their ballots by midnight (1930 GMT), and possibly for two hours longer, with results expected around noon Saturday, authorities say.
Iranians began voting on Friday in a presidential election likely to be won by a judge fiercely loyal to the religious establishment, although many people are expected to ignore the vote due to discontent with economic hardship and hardline rule.
With uncertainty surrounding Iran’s efforts to revive its 2015 nuclear deal, and growing poverty at home after years of US sanctions, the turnout for the vote is being seen by Iranian analysts as a referendum on the leadership’s handing of an array of crises.
“Each vote counts ... come and vote and choose your president ... this is important for the future of your country,” said Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after casting his vote in the capital, Tehran.
State television showed long queues outside polling stations in several cities.
Hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, 60, a close ally of Khamenei, is favorite to succeed the incumbent Hassan Rouhani, forbidden under the constitution from serving a third four-year term.
A win for the Shi’ite cleric would confirm the political demise of pragmatist politicians like Rouhani, weakened by the US decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.
But it would not disrupt Iran’s bid to revive the agreement and break free of tough oil and financial sanctions, Iranian officials say, with the country’s ruling clerics aware their political fortunes rely on tackling worsening economic hardship.
“Raisi’s main challenge will be the economy. Eruption of protests will be inevitable if he fails to heal the nation’s economic pain,” said a government official.
Khamenei appealed on Wednesday for a large turnout, saying such a show of strength would ease foreign pressure on the Islamic Republic.
Official opinion polls suggest turnout could be as low as 41 percent, significantly lower than in past elections.
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