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20 May 2017, 04:30 | Erica Roy
Iranians queue to vote as Rouhani faces strong hardline challenge
The Iranian Interior Ministry has declared the nearly final results of the Friday presidential election, putting Hassan Rouhani in the lead with 22,796,468 votes so far.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has won re-election, the Interior minister said on Saturday. This led to some five hours of extension in the amount of time the polls were open to accommodate everyone. Officials say more than 40 million people voted.
Of the 40 million ballots counted so far, Rouhani has secured 22.796 million votes, while Raisi has garnered 15.452 million, the official said at the briefing. Crucially, Rouhani's government won the cautious backing of the hardline supreme leader for the deal.
While Rouhani has gained popularity for opening up Iran's doors to the West and helping the country get rid of stifling economic sanctions by toning down its nuclear programme, he also battles large-scale disaffection in rural areas where jobs and prosperity have been hard to come by.
But the election comes at a tense moment in relations with the United States, with President Donald Trump still threatening to abandon the accord and visiting Iran's bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia this weekend.
"A number of years have passed (since the 2009 protests) and the country is demonstrating a high level of stability - this gives the system confidence, which means more room for change", Izadi said.
No sitting President has failed to win a second term since 1981 and Rouhani's engagement with the outside world, without the types of banking and visa restrictions, as well as economic sanctions resonated with voters who have disliked the country's isolation.
The 68-year-old incumbent secured a commanding lead of 57 percent in a race that drew more than seven out of every 10 voters to the polls.
Voters who spoke to The Associated Press from the cities of Bandar Abbas, Hamadan, Isfahan, Rashat, Shiraz and Tabriz also described crowded polling places.
Iranians yearning for more freedom at home and less isolation overseas have emphatically re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, throwing down a challenge to the conservative clergy that still holds ultimate sway.
The 56-year-old Raisi, who heads an influential religious charitable foundation with vast business holdings, is seen by many as close to Khamenei.
Rouhani has had a tough time defending the 2015 nuclear deal and his opponents have accused him of not making good on his promises.
"I voted for Rouhani to prevent Raisi's victory".
Behnam Ben Taleblu, senior Iran analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) in Washington, said Rouhani's warning to the Guards about electoral interference "could be aimed at forcing the establishment to back his second term".
Iran's Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was among the first to cast his ballot and urged others to do the same.
Iranians overseas were also voting in over 300 locations, including 55 in the USA, where more than 1 million Iranians live.
One Rouhani supporter warmly welcomed the news, but said she expected him to provide greater social and economic freedoms, pledges he made when first elected in a landslide in 2013 by Iranians tired of economic decline and clampdowns on dissent.
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