Rouhani forges clear lead Iran presidential race, expected to win

Iranians went to the polls Friday in their first presidential election since the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement, with early signs suggesting enthusiastic support for incumbent President Hassan Rouhani.

Mr Rouhani won 22.8 million votes in the hard-fought contest, compared to 15.5 million for his main rival Ebrahim Raisi, who came in with 38.9 million votes counted, the Interior Ministry said and added that more votes still had to be counted. "The right job should be done as soon as possible", said Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Friday after casting his vote in a mobile polling station in Jamaran, Tehran.

The country's Election Commission said Rouhani had obtained over 14.6 million votes, or approximately 56 per cent of the almost 26 million counted so far, suggesting he is on track for victory, Efe news reported.

Two dropped out to back Raisi and Rouhani, respectively, while the remaining candidates - reformist Mostafa Hashemitaba and conservative Mostafa Mirsalim - were headed for only a marginal percentage of the votes.

Final results are expected to be announced at 14:00 local time (09:30GMT), according to election official Ali Asghar Ahmadi.

Iranian voters wait for a polling station to open during the presidential election in Tehran, Iran, May 19, 2017.

More so, Raisi has pushed his charitable credentials as head of the powerful Imam Reza foundation and vowed more support for the poor.

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Raisi is believed to be Rouhani's toughest challenger.

Raisi says he will stick by the nuclear deal, but points to a persistent economic slump as evidence Rouhani's diplomatic efforts have failed. He called for a large turnout, saying "the country is in the hands of all people". By evening, 20 million voters had cast ballots out of 56 million who were eligible, the semi-official Fars news agency reported, with many voters still reportedly waiting in line.

Millions of Iranians voted late into the night Friday to decide whether incumbent President Hassan Rouha.

"Rouhani now gets his second term, and will be able to continue the work that he started in his first four-year term trying to reform Iran", Hull said. The Saudis are a strong USA ally and arch-enemy of Iran; the largely Sunni Saudis strongly opposed President Obama's outreach and nuclear deal with the Persian Shia power.

All candidates for elected office must be vetted, a process that excludes anyone calling for radical change, along with most reformists.

Besides picking a president, Iranians are also voting to choose members of the country's City and Village Councils.

If no one of the candidates wins more than 50 percent of votes cast, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff election on May 26.

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