Iranian voters appear to have turned out to the polls in high numbers in the country’s presidential election. All six candidates issued a joint appeal for calm in light of post-election unrest four years ago.
Vote counting continued early on Saturday as Iranians waited to find out who would replace outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The first partial results released, though, put Hassan Rowhani, a moderate candidate backed by reformists in the lead with more than 46 percent of the votes counted. The figures announced by Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar on state television put Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf a distant second with just 14 percent.
However, this was with less than 900,000 of the votes from Friday's election counted, and elections officials had earlier estimated that more than 70 percent of the more than 50 million eligible voters had turned out to cast their ballots.
The high turnout was at least part of the reason that election officials in many parts of the country were forced to keep polling stations open several hours longer than originally scheduled.
Prior to the election, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had appealed to the population to turn out in high numbers and he set an example by casting his ballot early in the day. He also slammed US officials for calling into question the legitimacy of the vote.
"The Iranian people... will do what is in their interest," Khamenei said on national television.
Of the six candidates vying for the presidency, cleric Hassan Rohani was the preferred candidate for most Iranian reformists. The other five were considered to be loyal to Khamenei.
Prior to the polls closing, all six candidates issued a joint statement appealing for calm.
"We ask people not to pay attention to rumors of victory parades being organized and to avoid gathering before the official results," the candidates, all of whom were vetted by Iran's Guardian Council, said.
Iran's 2009 polls sparked months of unrest after opposition supporters alleged that the vote was rigged in Ahmadinejad's favor. The current president was barred from running in Friday's election due to a two-term limit set out in Iran's constitution.
pfd/lw (AFP, AP, Reuters)