Iran's moderate presidential candidate congratulated his hardline rival hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi for winning the election, Iranian state media reported on Saturday, as the interior ministry said counting of the votes continued.
Ballots closed at 2am on Saturday after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called "crowding" at several polling places nationwide.
But many queued to vote at schools, mosques and community centres. Polls will be open from 7:00 a.m. until midnight, local time.
"Because it has not been officially announced yet, I will delay the official congratulations".
A video shared on social media showed a small crowd in Birmingham attacking at least one female voter with their fists and the poles of Iranian flags at one of 11 polling stations in the United Kingdom.
Iranian state-approved pollsters had predicted before the election that the turnout percentage could end up in the low 40s, which would mark a record low for a presidential election since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, in which its ruling Shiite clerics seized power from a collapsing monarchy. The previous low turnout was 50% in 1993. She said contrary to what state TV reported, "the polling stations are nearly empty here". Iranian state TV showed close-ups of voting lines at some sites as leading political figures implored people to vote.
The election victor will take over in August from President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has served the maximum two consecutive four-year-terms allowed under the constitution. While hundreds of Iranians, including relatives of dissidents killed since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and political prisoners, have called for an election boycott, the establishment's religiously devout core supporters are expected to vote for Raisi.
"I believe the low turnout will lead to a worsening crisis of legitimacy for the Iranian regime", said Ladan Boroumand, a director of USA -based rights group Abdorrahman Boroumand Center, in a VOA Persian TV interview on Friday.
It said they should establish "an impartial mechanism to collect and analyse evidence of the most serious crimes under worldwide law committed in Iran to facilitate fair and independent criminal proceedings". "This stance is a big no to the Islamic republic", she said. The race's fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.
Raisi, who campaigned on a pledge to fight corruption, would be the first Iranian president to take office while under USA sanctions if he wins. To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988.
As old and new U.S. sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted.
It also would firmly put hardliners in control across the Iranian government as negotiations in Vienna continue over trying to save Tehran's tattered nuclear deal with world powers as it enriches uranium to the closest point yet to weapons-grade levels.
"Our Iran policy is created to advance US interests, regardless of who is in power", said the spokesperson on condition of anonymity.
Despite this, Iran's senior political figures, including Raisi, have voiced broad agreement that the country must seek an end to the U.S. sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at rescuing the nuclear accord.
"But because Iran's foreign policy, especially relating to the USA, is the exclusive domain of Khamenei, whoever becomes the next president is likely to follow the same long-established rules", Rezaei said.
The incumbent president is not running, as Iran has a two-term limit for the presidency.
After voting in the capital Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iranians follow suit, saying "each vote counts. come and vote and choose your president".
"I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran", he wrote.
"If Khamenei deems Raisi a success, I think he will propose Raisi to succeed him".
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