DUBAI, June 18 (Reuters) - Iranians voted on Friday in an election expected to hand the presidency to a hardline judge subject to US sanctions, though many are likely to ignore the ballot amid economic hardship and calls for a boycott by critics at home and overseas.
With 90% of the ballots counted, voter turnout stood at around 48%, according to election officials.
"If elected, Raisi will be the first Iranian president in recent memory to have not only been sanctioned before he has taken office, but potentially sanctioned while being in office", said analyst Jason Brodsky.
Despite this, there is broad agreement among all the candidates including Raisi that Iran must seek an end to the United States sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna aiming to revive the nuclear accord.
Polling stations are to stay open no less than 17 hours, until midnight (19:30 GMT), with the option of extending it for another two hours, to extract every possible vote.More news: Vietnam to receive a million Covid vaccine doses by July
Initially, there were seven candidates for the presidential post in Iran, but only four have continued to compete for the position.
Three of the vetted candidates dropped out of the race two days before Friday's election. "Raisi will be the next president whether we vote or not", said an Iranian journalist who asked not to be named due to security concerns. The narrowed field made Friday's election a contest between Raisi, two other ultraconservatives and one relative moderate, former central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati.
"Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected", scoffed Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. "They organise the elections for the media".
Enthusiasm has been dampened further by the economic malaise of spiralling inflation and job losses, that has been deepened by the pandemic. "But it is clear who received the votes", Rouhani said.
A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed the frontrunner for his anti-graft credentials and on hopes he would "move the country forward. and save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation".More news: Israel military confirms airstrikes on Gaza
"I will vote (out of respect) for martyrs", a young man told state TV, referring to Iranians killed by the country's enemies. The US government has sanctioned him over the purge, in which Raisi has denied playing a part.
Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and Raisi himself has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.
But the election of an Iranian head of government now under United States sanctions could alarm Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts of Iranian politics said, especially given President Joe Biden's sharpened focus on human rights globally.
Rouhani's landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief. But Iran began violating the nuclear curbs in 2019 in retaliation for then-President Donald Trump's decision the previous year to withdraw from the JCPOA and unilaterally tighten US sanctions. While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump charged it was still planning to build the bomb and destabilising the Middle East through proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
Analysts said much of Iran's electorate appeared disenchanted with their Islamist rulers for mismanaging an economy ravaged by USA sanctions, a prolonged pandemic and official corruption.More news: At least 13 people wounded in Austin, Texas shooting