TEHRAN: Moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani, bolstered by a late surge in support from suppressed Iranian reformists, took an early lead in the presidential election to find a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, initial results showed on Saturday.
The first round results gave Rowhani 52 percent of the vote, more than three times as many as his nearest rival, with 18 percent of ballots counted, said the interior ministry.
A former top nuclear negotiator who has vowed to mend Iran’s ties with the international community, Rowhani garnered nearly 2,720,000 votes from about 5,211,000 ballots counted by 9:00 am (0430 GMT), the ministry said.
Conservative Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf was trailing him in second place with 17 percent followed by top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili with 13 percent and ex-commander of the Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezai with 10 percent. All three of these candidates hail from conservative camps.
Jalili, Qalibaf and ex-former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, another candidate who is behind with only five percent of the votes so far, are all considered close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
More than 50.5 million Iranians were eligible to vote to find a successor to Ahmadinejad, who after serving two consecutive terms, was constitutionally barred from standing for re-election.
The authorities and media reported that massive numbers of people turned out for Friday’s election, with Rowhani benefitting from the withdrawal this week of the only other moderate candidate and the backing of former reformist president Mohammad Khatami.
If no candidate gets an overall majority of 50 percent plus one vote in the first round, the top two candidates will square off in a second-round run-off scheduled for June 21.