Iranian voters appeared to turn out in large numbers yesterday to choose a new president, despite a limited choice of one relative moderate and five hardline conservatives, with long queues forming outside polling stations.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iranians to participate in force in the vote, damning US officials who criticized the fairness of the election.
Reuters journalists were not granted visas to cover the vote, but witnesses who visited several polling stations in the capital Tehran early in the day said there were more people waiting to vote than at the previous election in 2009.
Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar told state Press TV there had been a large turnout across the country in response to the leader’s call.
“They want to stand against the enemy,” he said.
Israel, the US and their allies top Iran’s list of foes.
The interior ministry extended voting time by several hours, Press TV said, due to the large number of voters waiting outside polling stations.
Iranian analysts said a big turnout could benefit the sole moderate conservative candidate Hassan Rohani, since some of his natural supporters in the urban middle class had been toying with abstention.
Rohani’s call to rehabilitate Iran’s foreign relations and enact a “civil rights charter” has resounded with many Iranians eager for change, but some reformists said they were still doubtful about voting after the experience of 2009 when reformist leaders said the election was stolen from them to return Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to office. The government denied rigging the count.
“I am standing in line right now to vote. Making up my mind about voting or staying away was a struggle for me,” said Shaqayeq, a student in Tehran. “Most reformists have urged us to vote and therefore I decided to vote, too. For Rohani.”
Mahnaz, a Tehran artist, was still agonizing.
“I am still not sure if I want to vote or not. I still remember what happened four years ago and that angers me, but a part of me still believes voting is important ... If I decide to vote, I will vote for Rohani because he is the only moderate among the candidates,” she said.
One Basij militiaman, Hossein, 27, said he was voting for Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, who is alone among the candidates in defending Tehran’s uncompromising stance in talks with world powers.
“I will certainly vote for Jalili. He is the only one I can trust to respect the values of the revolution,” Hossein said in Tehran.
Others said they would vote for Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the mayor of the Iranian capital, due to his track record of improving transportation and infrastructure in the sprawling city.
“Qalibaf really built Tehran,” Reza Sarvestani, 48, said. “I’m from the provinces and when I travel to Tehran, I’m amazed.”