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Iran votes in presidential poll tipped in hard-liner's favor

Iran began voting Friday in a presidential election tipped in the favor of a hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, fueling public apathy and sparking calls for a boycott in the Islamic Republic.

State-linked opinion polling and analysts put hard-line judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi as the dominant front-runner in a field of just four candidates. Former Central Bank chief, Abdolnasser Hemmati, is running as the race’s moderate candidate but hasn’t inspired the same support as outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who is term limited from seeking the office again.

If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

Supporters of Abdolnasser Hemmati, a presidential candidate in the June 18, elections, hold signs with his picture, during a street rally in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Hemmati, a prominent contender in Iran's presidential election appealed Tuesday for better economic and political relations with the West, his most extensive attempt yet to attract reformist voters just days ahead of the poll. (AP PhotoVahid Salemi)

It also would firmly put hard-liners in control across the Iranian government as negotiations in Vienna continue over trying to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers as it enriches uranium to the closest point yet to weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites and assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

Polls opened at 7 a.m. local time for the vote, which has seen widespread public apathy after a panel under Khamenei barred hundreds of candidates, including reformists and those aligned with Rouhani. Khamenei cast the ceremonial vote from Tehran.

There are more than 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation home to over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout of just 42%, which would be the lowest ever since the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Head-to-toe veiled Iranian women line up outside a polling station before its opening for presidential elections, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 18, 2021. (AP PhotoVahid Salemi)

A head-to-toe veiled Iranian woman sits outside a polling station before it opens for presidential elections, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 18, 2021. (AP PhotoVahid Salemi)

Iranian election officials prepare ballot boxes at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 18, 2021. Iran began voting Friday in a presidential election tipped in the favor of a hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP PhotoEbrahim Noroozi)

Iranian election officials prepare ballot boxes at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 18, 2021. Iran began voting Friday in a presidential election tipped in the favor of a hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP PhotoEbrahim Noroozi)

Iranian election officials prepare ballot boxes at a polling station in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 18, 2021. Iran began voting Friday in a presidential election tipped in the favor of a hard-line protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP PhotoEbrahim Noroozi)

Head-to-toe veiled Iranian women line up outside a polling station before its opening for presidential elections, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, June 18, 2021. (AP PhotoVahid Salemi)

A supporter of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi holds a sign during a rally in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Iran's clerical vetting committee has allowed just seven candidates for the Friday, June 18, ballot, nixing prominent reformists and key allies of President Hassan Rouhani. The presumed front-runner has become Ebrahim Raisi, the country's hard-line judiciary chief who is closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP PhotoEbrahim Noroozi)

A supporter of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi holds a sign and the Iranian flag during a rally in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. Iran's clerical vetting committee has allowed just seven candidates for the Friday, June 18, ballot, nixing prominent reformists and key allies of President Hassan Rouhani. The presumed front-runner has become Ebrahim Raisi, the country's hard-line judiciary chief who is closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. (AP PhotoEbrahim Noroozi)