TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian voters turned out in huge numbers Friday for the presidential election, a late surge of interest that seemed to swing the tide in the favor of the most moderate candidate in the field. But it remained to be seen whether any single contestant would exceed the 50 percent threshold needed to avoid a runoff next week.
With long lines at the polls, voting was extended by five hours in parts of Tehran and four hours in the rest of the country. Turnout reached 75 percent, by official count, as disaffected members of the Green Movement, which was crushed in the uprising that followed the disputed 2009 presidential election, dropped a threatened boycott and appeared to coalesce behind a cleric, Hasan Rowhani, and the mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf.
Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said this morning on state TV that preliminary results showed Rowhani with a strong lead, followed by Qalibaf. Najjar did not say when the final result would be available. Iran has more than 50 million eligible voters and only 1 million votes had been counted.
The early results seemed to be a repudiation of the coalition of conservative clerics and Revolutionary Guard commanders, the so-called traditionalists, who consolidated power after the 2009 election, which the opposition said was rigged. The traditionalists' favored candidate, Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator and a protege of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, did not seem to gain much traction with the public, emphasizing vague concepts like "Islamic society" and standing up to Western pressure.
Early today, officials at the Interior Ministry with access to the preliminary tallies said that while Rowhani appeared to be the clear winner in some cities, nothing had been confirmed. The four remaining candidates, all conservatives, seemed to be trailing badly, informal surveys indicated.
At 2 a.m., Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei, the spokesman for the Guardian Council, warned against publishing any rumors and urged all to wait for the official results.
Nonetheless many veteran Iran political watchers, who had expected a conservative winner in what had been a carefully vetted and controlled campaign, expressed surprise.
"If the reports are true, it tells me that there was a hidden but huge reservoir of reformist energy in Iran that broke loose in a true political wave," said Cliff Kupchan, an Iran analyst for the Eurasia Group, a political risk consulting firm in Washington.
Farideh Farhi, an Iranian scholar at the University of Hawaii, while careful not to draw conclusions until the official results were known, said it was clear that reformists and other disaffected voters in Iran had summoned energy to mobilize for a heavy turnout despite their own doubts about the system.