DUBAI (Reuters) - Iranians yearning for detente overseas and greater freedoms at home have handed President Hassan Rouhani a second term, but the hardline forces he defeated in elections on Friday will remain defiantly opposed to his plans.
Announcing the preliminary results, head of the election committee Ali Asghar Ahmadi said Rouhani had received 14.6 million of the votes counted, while his conservative opponent Ebrahim Raisi received 10.1 million.
Iran has no credible political polling to serve as harder metrics for the street buzz around candidates, who need more than 50 percent of the vote to seal victory and avoid a runoff.
The final results are to be announced later Saturday.
"The election boils down to whether Rouhani is allowed a second term to finish what he began, or potentially Iran taking a different turn and standing up to the outside world", Al Jazeera's Jonah Hull, reporting from Tehran, said. Rouhani promised in his 2013 campaign to free the men, but that pledge so far remains unfulfilled.
So far he has secured 56.88 percent of the vote - a total of 22,796,468 votes out of the 40,076,729 votes cast.
So, Rouhani attracted more votes in the provinces as follows: West Azerbaijan, Alborz, Ilam, Bushehr, Sistan and Baluchestan, Qazvin, Kurdistan, Kerman, Kermanshah and Yazd.
Should Raisi win, Iran is expected to retreat from the kind of nascent global engagement seen during Rouhani's first term, with a focus on growing its economy internally rather than looking for direct foreign investment.
"The wide mobilisation of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote", said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.
Election officials repeatedly extended voting hours until midnight to accommodate long lines of voters, some of whom said they waited hours to cast their ballots.
Iran's president is the second-most powerful figure within the country's political system. Opposition websites have said Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi both have endorsed Rouhani against Raisi. Many voters said they trusted the Rouhani government to oversee the counting of the ballots.
The lifting of sanctions did benefit the economy by increasing oil production.
Rouhani has sought to frame the election as a choice between greater civil liberties and "extremism". Despite draconian vetting rules for the candidates that bar all but steadfast loyalists to the regime from running for office, voters said it was important to support the regime's moderate and reformist factions as they confront hardliners like Raisi.
Rouhani responded by calling on voters to keep hardliners away from Iran's delicate diplomatic levers.
Many voters were determined to block the rise of Mr Raisi who was one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s.
Hei billed the deal as one that would thrust open the gates of economic opportunity, bring the country out of its isolation and create millions of jobs for Iranians.
Several small terrorist cells have been targeted and hit by the intelligence forces, he said, adding that no cases of successful anti-security measures have been reported.