“Open your eyes,” his friend told him. “Everything we have now is because of Jalili and his courage.”
Rouhani’s prospects improved when Jalili, Ghalibaf and Velayati all stayed in the race, threatening to split the conservative vote. Once Rouhani was seen as having a chance of winning, many urban and educated Iranians who might not otherwise have voted went to the polls Friday.
“I was planning to vote for Ghalibaf, but now I see that Rouhani has a lot of support,” said Jaffar, a 30-year-old Web designer. “I will vote for one of them, because I want to reduce Jalili’s chances.”
Also potentially boosting voter turnout, local council elections are being held on the same day as the presidential vote for the first time. In rural areas, the local elections are considered especially important and always attract high participation.
Ghalibaf, who was leading in a recent poll, is seen as a technocrat who has improved public transportation, created many green spaces and implemented several information technology initiatives. One of his slogans is: “I built Tehran, now let’s build Iran.”
Rouhani, although a cleric, has the backing of reformists and moderates, including former presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami.
Jalili, at 47 the youngest candidate in the race, promotes a platform based on “resistance” to Western pressures. Such resistance thus far has led to little progress in nuclear negotiations with world powers, a weakness referred to repeatedly by his rivals in the campaign.
Security throughout Tehran was high as the polls opened, with police stationed every few hundred yards and watching over major city squares, and armed military conscripts guarding the entrance of polling stations. Despite the heavy security presence, or perhaps because of it, the atmosphere was calm.
Voting got underway early with what is arguably Iran’s most influential vote, that of its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Khamenei cast his ballot in a brief early-morning appearance at a mosque inside his heavily secured central Tehran compound, offering no hints about which candidate he hopes will succeed controversial President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“Until now, I haven’t told anyone who I voted for. Not even the people closest to me. Not my family and not my children. They are not aware who I voted for,” Khamenei said.
All six presidential candidates are considered to be loyal to Khamenei, but there are variations in their plans for domestic and foreign policy, especially in terms of their proposed handling of nuclear negotiations with global powers and potential relations with the United States.
Khamenei, however, dismissed the importance of the U.S. view on Iranian domestic politics.
“I heard recently that someone in America’s National Security Council said that we don’t accept Iran’s elections,” Khamenei said, an apparent reference to a comment by Secretary of State John F. Kerry. Kerry said last month that he did not expect the elections to “change the fundamental calculus” of Iran’s nuclear policies, which he said are controlled by Khamenei, and not the president.
“To hell with those who don’t accept it,” said Khamenei.