Iran’s voters have given a strong backing to Hassan Rouhani in the country’s landmark election with the reformist President taking a commanding lead as results started coming in from across the country.
Mr Rouhani appears to be on course to serve a second term in office after receiving 14.6 million out of the 25.9 million counted so far, with his main rival, the hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, getting 10.1 million. Two other candidates, Mostafa Mirsalim and Mostafa Hashemitaba are not expected to win more than a few per cents of the vote.
An exceptionally large turnout, which led to polling stations being kept open late into the evening, solidified votes for Mr Rouhani. His followers had stressed that getting the vote out would lead to victory for their man.
The result will shape not only Iran’s future but have significant repercussions far beyond its borders. Mr Rouhani, who had signed the deal with international powers over the country’s nuclear programme which was supposed to lead to sanctions being removed, had said during the campaign that he was committed to opening up the country more to the outside world.
The President had also announced that under him Shia Iran would seek to hold talks with Sunni states : rivalry between the two sides had led to a number of vicious proxy sectarian conflicts in the region including in Yemen.
Mr Raisi had repeatedly criticised the nuclear deal, charging that it had compromised national security while achieving little tangible in return. He had been one of the main backers of the policy of sending Iranian fighters to Syria and Iraq holding that this kept the enemy away from the country’s frontiers.
One survey, conducted just before the election, had Mr Rouhani leading by 58 per cent to 36 per cent. But a late surge in support for Mr Raisi narrowed the margin and it was a sign of the rising tension that President Rouhani warned the powerful and influential Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia not…