Iranians have begun voting for a successor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Reformists have rallied around the moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani, while conservatives and hardliners are divided.
Polls opened on Friday in Iran for presidential elections, according to state television. More than 50 million Iranians were eligible to vote as the country decided who would replace President Ahmadinejad, who has completed the maximum two terms in office.
Politicians campaigned through Thursday in an attempt to win over undecided voters.
Former president and political moderate Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani urged reform-minded Iranians on Thursday to participate in the presidential election, after some members of the opposition had called for a boycott due to sore feelings over post-election violence in 2009.
"I urge them to vote," Rafsanjani was quoted as saying by several pro-reform newspapers. The former president, who served from 1989-1997, said that Iranians "should not boycott" the ballot.
In 2009, Ahmedinejad's re-election sparked mass protests by the opposition Green Movement, which alleged that the polls had been fixed.
The mass protests, the most severe public unrest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, were later crushed by the security services. The two reform candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, were subsequently placed under house arrest.
Reformists rally, conservatives divided
This year, reformists have sought to form a united front. They successfully pressured the other moderate candidate, Mohammad Reza Aref, to withdraw from the race earlier in the week to avoid splitting the vote with Rowhani.
Rowhani is a moderate cleric who served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator from 2003-2005.
The conservatives, meanwhile, have been unable to rally behind one candidate. Five conservative candidates, including Iran's current chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, are in the running.
"Unless the remaining conservative candidates coalesce, a splintered conservative field will face a candidate in Rowhani, who has the backing of significant political and social forces in Iran," Reza Marashi, with the US-based National Iranian American Council, told the news agency AFP.
Tehran-based conservative political analyst Mehdi Fazayeli said that the divided field could "transform the river of conservative votes into a multitude of small streams."
Whoever wins on Friday will face an economy badly battered by tough US and EU economic sanctions, imposed over allegations that Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
slk/msh (AFP, Reuters)