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Iranians Flock To Polling Stations In Presidential Elections

19 May 2017

But for most voters only two mattered, both of them clerics with very different views for the country's future: Rouhani and hard-line law professor and former prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi.

This year is already looking like a success for the regime, with massive queues reported at polling stations across the country.

There are about 56 million eligible Iranians and they can vote at one of 63,500 polling stations across the country.

The turnout may have spooked Raisi's camp, who filed a complaint to authorities over what they called "election violations" even before the polls closed, according to a report by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Early election results are expected on Saturday.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Farhad Tajarri, the spokesman for the central committee tasked with monitoring city and village councils elections, described the turnout as "huge".

For the election, Rouhani has pinned his hopes on people who are undecided or do not usually vote.

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Rouhani is credited with negotiating Iran's July 2015 nuclear agreement with the P5+1 group of global powers and the January 2016 lifting of worldwide nuclear sanctions against the country.

But the president faces strong competition from Raisi who has made grounds by positioning himself as a defender of the poor and calling for a much tougher line with the West.

"Today is an important day and Iranians have their fate and that of their children in their hands", said Rowhani as he voted in Tehran.

Rouhani has sought to frame the election as a choice between greater civil liberties and "extremism". Dozens of people were killed and hundreds arrested, human rights groups say, in the worst unrest to hit the Islamic Republic.

Working against Rouhani is a sense among many Iranians that the 2015 nuclear deal, which saw Iran accept limits on its atomic energy program, has failed to deliver an economic windfall. "Instead of using the capable hands of our young people to resolve problems, they are putting our economy in the hands of foreigners", Raisi said at a closing campaign rally in second city Mashhad.

Rouhani says hardliners must be kept away from Iran's diplomatic levers at a delicate moment in relations with the United States.

China lodged an official protest with the United States on Thursday over new USA sanctions on Iran that target a Chinese business tied to Tehran's ballistic missile program.

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"We have not seen the impact of the nuclear deal on our dining tables at all".

While the lifting of global sanctions in 2016 reconnected Iran with the worldwide financial system crucial to trade, lingering unilateral US sanctions tied to human rights and terrorism issues have spooked many potential foreign investors.

Rouhani has vowed to work towards removing the remaining non-nuclear sanctions, but critics argue that will be hard with Trump in power. Oil sales have rebounded since the nuclear deal took effect in January past year, but growth in the rest of the economy has been limited, leaving unemployment at 12.5 percent overall, and at nearly 30 percent for young people.

Oil sales have rebounded since the nuclear deal took effect in January 2016, but growth in the rest of the economy has been limited, leaving unemployment at 12.5 percent overall - close to 30 percent for the young - and many more are under-employed or struggling to get by. Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi, a vocal Rouhani supporter, voted in Cannes, France where he was attending the film festival. The only other candidate to poll above single digits, Muhammad Baqer Qalibaf, dropped out of the race on May 15th and endorsed Mr Raisi.

Unemployment, meanwhile, remains stuck in the double digits, with almost a third of Iranian youth out of work, according to the International Monetary Fund.

For younger, particularly urban Iranians, many of whom want more democracy and social freedoms nearly 40 years after the Islamic Revolution, Rouhani is the sole choice, even if it is one they're likely to make without real enthusiasm. "I don't want more social pressure and more isolation", Samira Vaseghi, a 23-year-old university student, said in Tabriz.

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Iranians Flock To Polling Stations In Presidential Elections