Polls have opened in Iran, where seven candidates are on the ballot to succeed outgoing President Mohammad Khatami. Voter turnout is expected to be a critical factor in the closely watched election.
The polls opened at 9:00 a.m. on Friday, what is normally a day of rest and prayer in Islamic Iran. Some 47 million people aged 15 and up are eligible to cast ballots.
Former president and parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is seen as a slight front-runner in a tight three-way race at the top of the seven-candidate pack. His toughest challenges are expected to come from another conservative, former police chief and airline pilot Mohammad Bagar Qalibaf, and the favorite of the reformers, Mostafa Moin. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent, a runoff is to be held in another week.
There have been calls from some quarters, particularly among young reformers, to boycott the vote. Two-thirds of the electorate is under age 30. Reformers are disillusioned about how conservatives allied with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei blocked President Khatemi's efforts to institute more openness in a rigid society.
Other people are disappointed about what they say is a lack of government effort to cure economic ills. "It's no use voting," says one Tehran shopkeeper, who asked not to be named. "It's only so the politicians can say that they have some popular support."
It's really about inflation and unemployment, say onlookers to the park bench interview.
Officials say a clear picture, if not the final results, should be available by Sunday.