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Voting, governance and clerical power in Iran

19 May 2017

Iranians are also voting for local councils, with reformists hoping to topple the conservatives' narrow majority in the capital.

Iranians voted Friday in the country's first presidential election since its nuclear deal with world powers, as incumbent Hassan Rouhani faced a staunch challenge from a hard-line opponent over his outreach to the West. He will not confront the leader (Khamenei) if elected.

"Rouhani has turned our foreign policies into a mess and damaged our religion", said Sedigheh Davoodabadi, a 59-year-old housewife in Iran's holy city of Qom who voted for Raisi.

Associated Press journalists in Tehran, whose liberal and affluent voters form the bedrock of support for Rouhani, found lines at some precincts much longer than those seen in his 2013 win.

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 in Iran, limiting the economic benefits so far. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor to him, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.

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Raisi says he will stick by the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, that saw curbs to Iran's atomic programme in exchange for sanctions relief, but he points to the continued economic slump as proof that Rouhani's diplomatic efforts have failed.

"Elections are very important and the fate of the country is in the hands of all people", he said.

Despite the removal of nuclear-related sanctions in 2016, lingering unilateral U.S. sanctions that target Iran's record on human rights and terrorism have kept many foreign companies wary of putting stakes in the Iranian market.

Raisi has focused his campaign on the economy, visiting rural areas and villages and promising housing, jobs and more welfare benefits, a message which could resonate with millions of poor voters angry at the Tehran elite.

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The presidential race has since narrowed to a two-horse race as other candidates either pulled out or backed Rouhani or Raisi. Raisi accused Rouhani of "economic elitism, mismanagement, yielding to Western pressure, and corruption".

While the vote may not have a decisive influence on foreign policy, which is set by Khamenei, the election of a hardliner could see greater repression and further deter foreign trade and investment seen as vital to rebuilding the economy. "I hope we are not forced to leave the country", he said.

Polls close at 6pm, although authorities often extend voting into the evening.

Ballot counting was expected to start at midnight and final results are expected within 24 hours of polls closing, TV reported.

Elections of city councils and a mid-term parliamentary election are also being held simultaneously.

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