Iran: A moderate leads a tight presidential race, report


Iranian presidential candidate Masoud Pezeshkian during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran, July 3, 2024. A seasoned Iranian lawmaker and former health minister.

DUBAI, July 5 (Reuters) – Iranians voted on Friday in a run-off presidential election to choose between a low-key moderate and a hardliner close to the supreme leader at a time of growing public frustration, regional tensions and Western pressure.

An Iranian source told Reuters that moderate candidate Masoud Pezeshkian was leading in the race, citing an early unofficial tally.

“Pezeshkian is much ahead of (hardline) Saeed Jalili based on the votes counted so far,” the source said.

Polling ended at midnight in Iran after being extended three times for a total of six hours. The interior ministry said initial reports showed the turnout was around 50%, higher than the first round. The final result will be announced on early Saturday, the interior ministry said.

The run-off follows a June 28 ballot with historically low turnout, when over 60% of Iranian voters abstained from the snap election for a successor to Ebrahim Raisi, following his death in a helicopter crash.

The vote is a tight race between low-key lawmaker Pezeshkian, the sole moderate in the original field of four candidates, and hardline former nuclear negotiator Jalili, a staunch advocate of deepening ties with Russia and China.

While the election is expected to have little impact on the Islamic Republic’s policies, the president will be closely involved in selecting the successor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s 85-year-old Supreme Leader who calls all the shots on top matters of state.

“I have heard that people’s zeal and interest is higher than in the first round. May God make it this way as this will be gratifying news,” Khamenei told state TV after casting his vote.

Khamenei acknowledged on Wednesday “a lower than expected turnout” last week, but said “it is wrong to assume those who abstained in the first round are opposed to Islamic rule”.

Voter turnout has plunged over the past four years, which critics say underlines that support for clerical rule has eroded at a time of growing public discontent over economic hardship and curbs on political and social freedoms.

Only 48% of voters participated in the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, and turnout was 41% in a parliamentary election in March.

However, the interior ministry spokesman said early reports indicated “higher participation compared with the same hour in the first round of the election”.