Photo: ATTA KENARE/AFP
Rowhani is by far the most "moderate" or leaning more to reform than the rest of the field who basically all are hard line islamists who would operate much the same as Ahmadinejad. But the polls have been SWAMPED and that means that perhaps there's a wave of reformers really coming out to put Rowhani in power. Of course, if the Ayatollah doesn't like the results, I guess he can just fudge the numbers and declare someone else the winner.
Deja vu, anyone?
The story comes from The Telegraph.
Iran election: reports of late surge for more moderate candidate Hassan Rowhani
Iranians voted for a new president with reports emerging of a late surge of votes in favour of a cleric who favours dialogue with the West.
Hassan Rowhani, who has campaigned on a pledge of "constructive interaction with the world", was tipped as the leader in a contest otherwise dominated by hardliners loyal to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
While still belonging to the conservative camp, Mr Rowhani, 64, was believed to have gained the support of reform-minded Iranians, who see him as the only remotely acceptable candidate among the six contestants.
Opinion polls in Iran are regarded as unreliable, but a survey from Information and Public Opinion Solutions, a US-based polling group that conducted telephone polls of more than 1,000 Iranians in both cities and rural areas, put Mr Rowhani in the lead on 38 per cent of the vote.
Mr Rowhani's campaign manager, Mohammad-Reza Nematzadeh said: "From what we are hearing, by God's grace and with the people's support, he is leading in all the country, down to the level of villages."
Opening times at polling stations were extended into the early evening yesterday, with reports of a turnout as high as 70 per cent. Some interpreted that as a sign that supporters of the country's cowed opposition movement had opted to vote rather than boycott the elections altogether.
Their own preferred candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, have both been banned from standing in a bid to prevent a repeat of the violent aftermath of the disputed polls of 2009.
But in the two men's absence, reformists have been encouraged to transfer their allegiance to Mr Rowhani, whose candidacy was last week also endorsed by Iran's former President Mohammed Khatami, who pioneered the reformist movement in the late 1990s.
Although scarcely a radical, Mr Rowhani's more conciliatory approach is in firm contrast with the confrontational stance of the outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is stepping down after two terms in office.
"He wants to reform the economic and political system, and he will improve Iran's international relations," said Mansour Sanatipour, 56, a policeman who cast his ballot for Mr Rowhani.
Close behind Mr Rowhani is Mohamed Qalibaf, a tough ex-police chief and current mayor of Tehran, who was put on 26 per cent in the IPOS poll. If none of the six candidates get more than 50 per cent of the votes, a second round run-off is due on Friday.
Mr Qalibaf, 51, who has boasted in the past of his role in crushing the "sedition" of the 2009 street protests, is competing for the hardline vote against Saeed Jalili, Iran's current nuclear negotiator, who is considered the Supreme Leader's personal favourite for the job.
However, Mr Jalili's rather plodding campaign style has failed to excite voters, who also see Mr Qalibaf's as a relatively competent technocrat thanks to his record as mayor. The IPOS poll put him on just 12 per cent.
In practice, the outcome of the polls will have only a limited effect on Iranian politics, where the Supreme Leader has the final say on all key domestic and international policies.
But the popular vote is inevitably a rival mandate of sorts to the religious authority of the Supreme Leader, and is partly blamed for his falling out with fellow hardliner, Mr Ahmadinejad, whom he came to see as a threat to his power.
Distrust between the two men is believed to have led to the Iranian authorities blocking Mr Ahmadinejad's anointed successor as president, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, from running in the polls.
Mindful of the widespread unrest which followed the 2009 elections – where the reformist camp claimed the vote was rigged in favour of Mr Ahmadinejad – Iran's security forces are on high alert. If Mr Rowhani gets what is seen as a suspiciously low vote, it could spark street protests.
Yet his credentials as a proxy for the reformist vote are at best limited. Following the student protests that swept across Iran in 1999, he declared that demonstrators who had damaged public property should be tried as enemies of the state – a crime that potentially carried the death penalty.
However, as Iran's nuclear negotiator between 2003-2005, he pioneered a constructive approach with the West that was then reversed when Mr Ahmadinejad took office, prompting him to resign in the post. In 2000, as secretary of the powerful supreme national security council, he also urged the government to end its ban on satellite dishes, imposed five years previously to stop a "Western cultural invasion."
Reza Esfandiari, an Iranian living in Britain, said the reformist movement had taken a "massive gamble" in backing Mr Rowhani. "Rowhani has succeeded in winning over many Mousavi supporters and is actually promising all sorts of reforms, much of which he cannot possibly keep," he said. "If he wins, they become relevant again in Iranian politics. If he loses, they become completely irrelevant and the reform movement faces political oblivion."