London, Asharq Al-Awsat—Iran’s 11th presidential election was held on Friday amid concerns expressed from various sides, including the Interior Ministry and the candidates’ own campaigns, about potential irregularities in the vote.
The Iranian supreme guide, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, cast his vote at 8:00 am local time, as the polls opened. Mehr News Agency reported that Khamenei emphasized the importance of honesty and trust in elections in his speech. He also addressed all bodies responsible for the electoral process, saying: “You should keep the peoples’ vote safe. You must pay extra attention in keeping an eye on the peoples’ votes and counting them.”
A close adviser to the supreme leader, Hujjat Al-Islam Ali Akbar Nategh Nour, predicted there would be no need for a runoff round next Friday. He also said that “it is each candidate’s duty to accept legal decisions.”
Abassali Kadkhodayi, a spokesman for the Guardian Council, the body in charge of approving or vetting all potential candidates, asked candidates and their supporters “to leave the announcement of the results of the election to the Interior Ministry and avoid speculations over any candidate’s victory.”
Senior staff for presidential candidate Hassan Rouhani complained about electoral irregularities as supporters denounced the fact that the name of a candidate who withdrew from the election in favor of Rouhani was still appearing in lists at polling stations.
Photographs from a polling station showed the name of the reformist candidate Mohammad-Reza Aref was still listed as one of seven candidates. Aref withdrew from the race in favor of Rouhani. Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel also withdrew, although his name was crossed out on the list.
Rouhani’s supporters speculated that the authorities meant to confuse reformist and moderate voters in order to split the vote between him and Aref.
Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, the head of Rouhani’s campaign headquarters, addressed a letter to the Guardian Council, in which he requested Aref’s name be crossed off the list.
In response to Nematzadeh’s letter, the country’s elections headquarters issued an announcement that read: “If any registration and polling station has displayed a list of the candidates, they must cross out Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel and Mohammad-Reza Aref’s names immediately due to their withdrawal from the elections.”
In a press conference on Friday, Kadkhodayi told reporters that “the Guardian Council is monitoring the election process and have not received any significant complaints yet. Some of the candidate’s representatives reported minor issues, and they were taken care of.”
Solat Mortazavi, secretary of Iran’s election headquarters, dismissed the reports, saying: “According to an announcement released by the Interior Ministry, the names of two candidates who withdrew from the election, namely Mohammad-Reza Aref and Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, were removed from lists. The rumors that their names are still on the list are not true.”
Following these updates, Rouhani’s headquarters adopted pre-emptive measures and released a statement asking voters to register their votes at Rouhani’s campaign website.
The headquarters urged people to take a note of the “town, number of the ballot box, and the address of the poll” and register this data at the website to ensure that the counting is protected from any fraud.
On Friday afternoon, high turnout was reported as Iranians went to the polls. The polls were officially opened across Iran at 08:00 am on Friday, and were originally scheduled to remain open for 10 hours. However, due to high voter turnout, the interior ministry extended the time and the polling stations remained open for a longer period.
Reformist activist Ebrahim Yazdi, head of Iran’s banned Freedom Movement, was seen in a long queue to cast his vote. Asked what he thought about the elections and if the results would likely result in a second round, Yazdi told Mehr News Agency: “I have taken enough courses in Evin University [a sarcastic reference Evin Prison]. Casting votes is a national duty, and I use the right that God has bestowed to me.”
Hujjat al-Islam Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri, who cast his vote at the same polling station as Ayatollah Khamenei, was asked by reporters if he thought the election would be taken to a second round. He answered, “God willing, it will finish in the first round.”
According to the Iranian Students News Agency, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad voted at around 15:15 pm, close to deadline for the closure of the ballot boxes.
The election did not run smoothly in London, where a large of number of people showed up to cast their vote. Protesters threw paint at the Iranian consulate in London. The single polling station in London was the scene of minor clashes between supporters and opponents of the Islamic Republic.
Thousands of Iranian nationals living across the UK traveled to vote at the former Iranian consulate on London’s Kensington High Street, now officially the Embassy of the Sultanate of Oman—Iran’s Interests Section.
The Iranian expatriate voters were confronted by a group of around 20 political activists, who chanted slogans against the Tehran government and raised placards reading: “No free election is possible as long as the Islamic Republic rules.”
Responding to the protesters, the Iranian voters chanted: “Long live Iran” and “Down with the traitors.”
A minor confrontation broke out in the street in front of the consulate when Iranian voters faced off with British protesters.
Six candidates are contesting the poll to decide who will replace outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Some 50 million Iranian are eligible to vote worldwide.
In a street poll conducted by Asharq Al-Awsat outside the consulate, 40% of voters asked said they were going to vote for Hassan Rouhani, 30% for Qalibaf and 30% for Jalili.
In the event that no candidate wins an outright majority, there will be a runoff on June 21 between the two candidates with the most votes, during which time they will be allowed to return to campaigning. Results are expected to be announced early Saturday.