Iran voters would be electing a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in a six-cornered presidential election.

The late momentum in the election campaign melded into a high turnout on Friday in Iran’s presidential election, which is once again exposing the deepening rift between reformists and conservatives.

In view of the heavy balloting, Iran’s Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar announced that polling stations will remain open for two hours beyond their scheduled 6 p.m. closing time.

A rebuff to the West

The high turnout among the 50 million voters is a significant victory for Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had exhorted people to come out to vote to reaffirm the legitimacy of the state. It is also a rebuff for those in the West, especially the U.S., who had dismissed the election as sham.

The Supreme Leader, while casting his vote, took pot shots at members of the Obama administration who had questioned the legitimacy of the vote. “I recently heard that someone at the U.S. National Security Council said ‘we do not accept this election in Iran’,” said the Ayatollah. “We don’t give a damn.”

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had raised doubts about the credibility of the elections after some candidates, including two-time President Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, were disqualified.

The turnout seemed to inflate the morale among reformists, who were already on a high after allying with moderates to elevate Hassan Rohani — a centrist — as their sole candidate. The polling firm Ipos is projecting Mr. Rohani in the lead with 31.7 per cent of the vote followed by Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the Mayor of Tehran with 24.1 per cent.

The reformists have shown tactical ingenuity in pitching for Mr. Rohani. Taking a cue from the Green Movement’s campaign in 2009, Mr. Rohani ran a colour-coded campaign, with his supporters sporting purple wrist-bands and clothing. The reformists also stole a march over the conservatives, whose votes were being divided among three candidates, by uniting behind Mr. Rohani.

Exasperation

In contrast, the media backing the conservatives bared its exasperation at the inability of the three conservative candidates — Saeed Jalili, Ali Akbar Velayati and Mr. Qalibaf — to unite behind a single candidate.

The consternation was evident in a write-up ahead of the vote by Hussein Shariatmadari, Editor-in-Chief of the Kayhan daily known for its proximity to the Supreme Leader. “We now expect the principlist [conservative] candidates to unite together without wasting time,” he railed, pointing out that the multiplicity of candidates was a recipe for defeat. “Why and under what logical justification would a multiple-candidate format not change?” he added. “Isn’t a single [principlist] candidate better than votes divided among them?”

Analysts point out that predicting the results is futile. But if pollsters are to be believed the stage has been set for a run-off, probably between Mr. Rohani and Mr. Qalibaf, as none of the contestants are expected to garner 50 per cent of the vote for an outright first round victory.

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