DUBAI, (Reuters) – Millions of Iranians voted to choose a new president yesterday, 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 between six candidates to replace incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Having been vetted by Iran’s electoral authorities, none is seen 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 over 70 percent, 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 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, Khamenei 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 U.S. National Security Council said ‘we do not accept this election in Iran’,” he said. “We don’t give a damn.”
On May 24, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry questioned the credibility of the election, criticising the disqualification of candidates and accusing Tehran of disrupting Internet access.
All the remaining contenders except current chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili have criticised the conduct of diplomacy that has left Iran increasingly isolated and under painful economic sanctions.
After casting his vote, Jalili said: “Everyone should respect the name that comes out of the ballot boxes and the person people choose,” 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 Jalili, 47, Khamenei’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,” Hossein said.