Iranians began voting on Friday in a presidential election unlikely to result in seismic shifts in its troubled relations with the West and Gulf Arab neighbours, but which could bring a softening of the confrontational style personified by outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran’s Gulf Arab neighbours are also wary of Iran’s influence in Iraq next door and its backing for President Bashar al-Assad and his Lebanese allies Hezbollah in the Syrian civil war. The Sunni Arab kingdoms are backing the rebels in Syria.
Of five hardline candidates professing unwavering obedience to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, three are thought to stand any chance of winning the vote, or making it through to a second round run-off in a week’s time.
Of those three main conservative hopefuls only one, current chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, advocates maintaining Iran’s robust, ideologically-driven foreign policy.
The other two, Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and former foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, have pledged never to back away from pursuing Iran’s nuclear programme but have strongly criticised Jalili’s inflexible negotiating stance.
They face a single moderate candidate, the only cleric in the race, Hassan Rohani. Though very much an establishment figure, suspicious of the West, Rohani is more likely to pursue a conciliatory foreign policy.
State media reported that polling began on schedule at 0330 GMT. Voting lasts for 10 hours, though this can be extended if need be. There are more than 50 million Iranians eligible to vote, 1.6 million of them first-time voters.
Full article: Iran begins vote to choose Ahmadinejad’s successor (The Telegraph)