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Iranian polls attract unprecedented turnout

Iranians lined up in droves to vote in a hotly contested presidential election and late in the day, officials announced that the polls would stay open longer to accommodate everyone.

Women wearing chadors wait in line to vote

Iranians went to the polls to a elect a new president

Even before the polls opened at 8 a.m. local time on Friday, it was clear that this was no ordinary presidential election and that the sheer number of voters was a sign that the future direction of Iran was being taken seriously by everyone.

The three candidates running against President Ahmadinejad were Mehdi Karroubi, Mohsen Rezaei and Former Prime Minister Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

But by all accounts, the election came down to a two-man race between Ahmadinejad and Mousavi.

Mir Hussein Moussavi

Mousavi was seen as Ahmadinejad's main challenger

"Voter turnout has been unprecedented," said election commission chief Kamran Daneshjoo at a press conference.

Late in the day, Sadegh Kharazi, an ally of the former prime minister, told the Reuters news agency that surveys made by reformers showed that Mousavi was getting enough votes to win outright in the first round.

"I can say that based on our surveys ... Mousavi is getting 58-60 percent of the vote and we are the winner," said Sadegh Kharaz.

Representatives from Ahmadinejad's camp said the report was just a psychological tactic.

Out of a population of just over 70 million, roughly 46.2 million were eligible to vote.

Mousavi wants a new direction

The differences between the two men are quite distinct. Ahmadinejad, 52, is a fiery hard-liner who has castigated the West, denied the Holocaust and by all accounts mismanaged Iran's economy.

Mousavi, 67, on the other hand, is a reformist, who favors a dialogue with the West, more freedoms for Iranians and a greater role for women in the country.

Reports from the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA) indicated that there were many "silent voters" showing up at the polls. "Silent voters" are those whose ID cards are blank on the election page. Voters are given a stamp each time they vote and many voters had intentionally not voted in previous elections as a way of expressing their disapproval of the Islamic republic and a stamp in their election card would be seen as tacit approval.

Each candidate has also garnered the support of different factions of the country. Mousavi draws much of his support from students and men and women in the cities while Ahmadinejad's support comes from the poor in rural areas of the country.

If neither candidate gets more that 50 percent of the vote plus one, there is to be a runoff election on June 19.

av/Reuters/AFP/AP/dpa
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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  • Date 12.06.2009