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Rouhani Holds Lead in Early Vote Results in Iran

Rouhani Holds Lead in Early Vote Results in Iran

Iranians began voting on Friday in a closely-fought presidential contest between pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani and hardline challenger Ebrahim Raisi that could determine the pace of social and economic reform and Iran's re-engagement with the world.

Ali Asghar Ahmadi, the head of the Election Committee of Iran's Interior Ministry, who announced the nearly final results, also said that Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli would announce the final results of the election at 2:00 p.m. Iran time (0930 GMT) on Saturday.

According to figures from the partial count, President Rouhani has secured 14,619,848 votes, while Raisi has garnered 10,125,855, Ahmadi added.

When he was swept to office four years ago with three times as many votes as his nearest challenger, Iranians held high hopes that he could fulfil his promises to reduce the country's isolation overseas and bring more freedoms at home.

On Friday, Iran did not allow foreign journalists and worldwide monitors to enter its territories to monitor the presidential polls.

Global affairs researcher Foad Izadi, of Tehran University, said Rouhani may now have the leverage to push for more freedoms, despite opposition from the conservative-dominated judiciary and security services.

An Iranian woman flashes a victory sign as she waits to cast her ballot in the presidential elections at a polling station in Tehran on Friday.

"I am very happy for Rouhani's win".

"Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen".

Of a total of 25,966,799 ballots that have been count, more than 784,000 (3.02 percent) have been declared spoilt votes. Both deny the other's accusations.

Iran's presidential elections will have a huge impact on country's relations with the West and on the Iran nuclear deal which was achieved after years of tough negotiations.

Rouhani had urged the Guards not to meddle in the vote, a warning that reflects the political tension.

Suspicions that the Guards and the Basij militia under their control falsified voting results in favor of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad led to eight months of nationwide protests in 2009.

For ordinary Iranians, the election presented a stark choice between competing visions of the country.

Rouhani, known for decades as a mild-mannered member of the establishment, campaigned as an ardent reformist to stir up the passions of young, urban voters yearning for change. Another report, however, said the deadline had been extended by five hours.

Raisi's party had hopes of a good showing among those voters seeking a return to the conservative values of the 1979 Iranian Revolution as espoused by the supreme leader.

Despite the removal of nuclear-related sanctions in 2016, lingering unilateral US sanctions that target Iran's record on human rights and terrorism have kept many foreign companies wary of putting stakes in the Iranian market.

Hei billed the deal as one that would thrust open the gates of economic opportunity, bring the country out of its isolation and create millions of jobs for Iranians.