DUBAI - Moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani took a commanding lead over conservative rivals in Iran's presidential election, according to initial results, but it was unclear whether he could avoid a second-round run-off on June 21.
The vote is unlikely to radically alter ties between Tehran and the West, but if Rouhani wins he has indicated he would pursue a less confrontational foreign policy than current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and enact a "civil rights charter" at home.
With more than 5.2 million votes counted from the 50 million electorate, Rouhani had 52.30 percent of votes cast, Iran's interior ministry said. That would take Rouhani above the 50 percent of the vote he needs to avoid a second round run-off on June 21.
Rouhani's nearest rival was conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a long way behind with 17.33 percent. Other hardline candidates scored even lower.
Rouhani received significant boosts earlier this week when reformist candidate, Mohammad Reza Aref, withdrew in his favor. His campaign was also endorsed by former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
In contrast, Iran's big-hitting conservatives failed to organize themselves around a single candidate, suffering what appeared a decisive split in their support base as a result.
Voting was extended by several hours at polling stations across the country on Friday as millions of Iranians turned out to cast their ballot in the first presidential race since a disputed 2009 contest led to months of political unrest.
Press TV reported that turnout was about 80 percent.
Iran is set to elect a new president. As candidates make their last-minute bids, NBC News' Ali Arouzi gauges the mood on the streets of Tehran.
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