Iranians voted Friday in the country's first presidential election since its nuclear deal with world powers, as incumbent Hassan Rouhani faced a staunch challenge from a hard-line opponent over his outreach to the West. The election is largely viewed as a referendum on the 68-year-old cleric's more moderate policies, which paved the way for the nuclear accord despite opposition from hard-liners, per the AP. Economic issues also will be on the minds of Iran's 56 million voters as they head to more than 63,000 polling places across the country. The average Iranian has yet to see the benefits of the deal, which saw Iran limit its contested nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.
Rouhani faces three challengers, the strongest among them hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56. Raisi, a law professor and former prosecutor who heads an influential religious charitable foundation with vast business holdings, is seen by many as close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor to him, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone. In the presidential election, however, Rouhani has history on his side. No incumbent president has failed to win re-election since 1981, when Khamenei became president himself. Mostafa Hashemitaba, a pro-reform figure who previously ran for president in 2001, and Mostafa Mirsalim, a former culture minister, also remain in the race.