Polls open in Iran presidential election runoff amid declining voter turnout

Iranians began voting Friday in a runoff election to replace the late president Ebrahim Raisi, killed in a helicopter crash last month. Reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon, faces ultraconservative Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator, after a first round marred by a record-low turnout.

Polls opened Friday for Iran's runoff presidential election, the interior ministry said, pitting reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian against ultraconservative Saeed Jalili in the race to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a May helicopter crash.

The Islamic republic's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say in all state matters, cast his ballot when the polls opened at 08:00 am (0430 GMT), state TV showed.

"We are starting the second round of the 14th presidential election to choose the future president from among the two candidates across 58,638 polling stations in the country and all stations abroad," Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said, according to state TV.

The vote comes against the backdrop of heightened regional tensions over the war in Gaza, Iran's dispute with the West over its nuclear programme and popular discontent at the state of the country's sanctions-hit economy.

Only 40 percent of Iran's 61 million eligible voters cast their ballot – the lowest turnout in any presidential election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

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