Millions vote to choose Ahmadinejad’s successor

Tehran, June 14 (IANS) Millions of Iranians cast their votes in the presidential election Friday at over 60,000 polling stations to choose two-term President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s successor.

In the morning, the Islamic Republic’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a call for a high turnout.

As Khamenei cast his vote, he urged the Iranians to actively participate in the election, saying that their participation would “determine the fate of the country”, Xinhua reported.

The enemies intended to “discourage the Iranian people” so that “they would not attend the polling stations”, said the leader, emphasising that “the Iranians disregard of the enemies’ attempts follow their own expedience”.

Although all six candidates of the 11th presidential election are seen as conservatives, one of them, cleric Hassan Rouhani, has been reaching out to the reformists in recent days, BBC reported.

Ahmadinejad’s eight years in power have been characterised by economic turmoil and Western sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.

Meanwhile, of an estimated 75 million Iranians about 50.5 million are eligible to cast their ballots in the presidential election, due to end at 6.00 p.m (1.30 p.m. GMT).

Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, however, later announced that voting time would be extended, possibly by several hours, BBC reported.

Ballot counting was still expected to start at midnight local time and results were due to be announced in the following 24 hours.

The presidential candidates would have three days to lodge complaints to the vetting body, the Guardian Council, if they were unhappy with the results, Najjar added.

The Iranian president is elected for a four-year term in a national election.

This time hundreds of candidates were vying for the post of Iranian president who is the highest official after the supreme leader.

The hopefuls ranged from friends to foes of Ahmadinejad. A total of 686 hopefuls, including 30 women, had registered for the election initially.

Earlier, Iran’s powerful Guardian Council — a body of theologians and jurists, known for its proximity to the supreme leader Khamenei — approved only eight candidates.

All of these candidates are considered hardline conservatives with close links to Iran’s ruling clerics.

The 12-member body had even rejected the candidacy of two heavyweights — former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Esfandiyar Rahim-Mashaei, a protégé of outgoing president Ahmadinejad.

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