12th presidential election kick off in Iran

More than 63,000 voting stations opened in Iran at 08.00 a.m. local time (03.30 GMT) on Friday for the country’s presidential election.

Four candidates are running for presidency: Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who seeks the second term, former Prosecutor General Ebrahim Raisi, former Culture Minister Seyed Mostafa Agha Mirsalim and former Industries Minister Mostafa Hashemitaba.

The first two candidates are the frontrunners and opinion polls show they have equal chances to secure victory. The former members of the government seem to be outsiders in the race and acknowledge this themselves.

At first, six presidential candidates had been registered, but Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and First Vice President Eshaq Jahangir withdrew from the race earlier this week.

A candidate needs to garner more than 50% to win the election. If neither candidate manages to do this, a run-off will be held where two frontrunners of the race will compete. Many Iranian political scientists said earlier that the second round was inevitable as neither candidate was projected to secure support of half of voters. After two candidates have stepped aside, there are more chances that one of favorites of the race will win the election in the first round.

The election headquarters at the Iranian Interior Ministry pledges to count the votes as soon as possible. Officially, the vote will last until 6 p.m. local time but may be extended by a decision of Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli. According to him, 350,000 people are in charge of maintaining security during the voting process.

More than 56 million Iranians are eligible to vote in the election and the voter turnout is expected to be at least 70%.

A senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Middle East of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Candidate of Historical Sciences Elena Dunayeva, speaking to Vestnik Kavkaza, noted that the elections will last only one round, because both Mostafa Mir-Salim and Mostafa Hashemitaba won't be able to gain more than 3-4%. According to her the main fight will take place between Rouhani and Raisi. "Right now there's a certain parity in Iran, and the outcome of these elections will be mainly decided by turnout. The thing is that conservatives, in other words, traditional population, usually take active part in the election campaign, while the electorate of pro-reformist direction never shows high turnout rates," she explained. The expert recalled that so far 71-72% have stated their desire to go to the polls, adding that the campaign was much more lively then. "If turnout exceeds 70%, then we can talk about Rouhani's victory. If there won't be a high turnout, then it's possible that Raisi will receive more votes, because he's supported by many residents from provincial regions," the senior fellow at the Center for the Study of the Middle East of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences believes.

The senior research fellow of the Department of Near and Middle East at the Institute for Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Lana Ravandi-Fadai, in turn, expects that the elections will be held in one round and President Hassan Rouhani will win. "The fact is that Raisi is not a very well-known person in Iran, so I think that Rouhani will win," she said.

The ratio between supporters of conservatives and supporters of reformers in the Iranian society is approximately equal. "At the same time, we must take into account that there are reformers dissatisfied with Rouhani's presidency. And also there are conservatives who support Rouhani," the senior research fellow of the Department of Near and Middle East at the Institute for Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences said.

Senior researcher at the Center of Middle East Studies of the Oriental Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Vladimir Sazhin, believes that Iran's policy has a very strong influence on the situation in the region and that the result of elections is extremely important. He noted that traditionally, almost all Iranian presidents ruled for two terms. "I was in Tehran in April, many people believe that, despite all the difficulties, current President Rouhani is going to win," the expert said.

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