A look at Iran's presidential candidates

A look at Iran's presidential candidates

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast his ballot just minutes after polls opened at 8:00 am (0330 GMT).

"Any candidate who is elected should be helped to accomplish this heavy responsibility", Rouhani said.

Economic issues also will be on the minds of Iran's over 56 million eligible voters as they head to more than 63,000 polling places. Officially, the vote will last until 6 p.m. local time but may be extended by a decision of Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli.

Two other candidates are also running for the presidency - conservative Mostafa Mirsalim and the reformer Mostafa Hashemitaba - but they are not expected to get more than a fraction of the vote. He noted that traditionally, nearly all Iranian presidents ruled for two terms.

He underlined that the long queues of people waiting to vote in different cities and villages of Iran proves the ruling of the people over the country.

"I am happy I could vote for Rouhani", said Zohreh Amini, a 21-year-old woman studying painting at Tehran Azad University.

Raisi, 56, is a hard-line cleric close to Khamenei who has vowed to combat poverty and corruption.

Early in his tenure, Rouhani shared a 2013 phone call with then-U.S. President Barack Obama, the highest-level exchange between the two countries since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and the U.S. Embassy hostage crisis. However, his candidacy has revived the controversy surrounding the 1988 mass execution of thousands in Iran. "Rouhani gave everything to the United States outright" in the nuclear deal. Iran's president is subordinate but still powerful, with considerable influence over both domestic policy and foreign affairs.

In Iran, where political speech is severely curtailed, newspapers and even social media channels are government regulated and protest comes with great personal risk, the quadrennial presidential election is an opportunity to blow off emotional steam, to act politically in the most public, and loud, of ways. During the campaign, Rouhani also increasingly has criticized Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard, a hard-line paramilitary force answering only to Khamenei, something he so far has been hesitant to do while in office.

Rouhani also found himself surrounded by angry coal miners who beat and threw rocks at his armoured SUV during a visit to a northern mine struck by an explosion earlier this month that killed at least 42 people.

The race, however, is expected to be limited to a reformist, incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, and his main challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, a hardline cleric and former prosecutor-general. Those who led Iran's Green Movement after Ahmadinejad's disputed 2009 re-election remain under house arrest.

According to some reports, Raisi, who might replace Khamanei as the next supreme leader, entered the presidential race to enhance his chances for later winning the seat of the number one man in the regime.

Supporters of the two leading candidates honked, blared music and held pictures of the hopefuls out of auto windows on the traffic-clogged and heavily policed streets of Tehran late into the night Thursday, ignoring a ban on campaigning in the final 24 hours before the vote.

Iranian authorities say they believe the vote will exceed a 70 percent turnout.

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