TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's reformist-backed presidential candidate has surged to a wide lead in early vote counting.
The head of the interior ministry's election department says Hasan Rowhani had nearly more than 38 percent of the vote with more than 3 million votes tallied. Rowhani's net closest competitor had about 16 percent.
Still, the strong margin would not be enough for Rowhani to win the presidency outright and avoid a two-person runoff next Friday.
Rowhani is the only cleric among the six candidates, so his victory would not likely be perceived as a threat to the ruling structure. He served for a time as the country's nuclear negotiator, quitting the post shortly after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (ah-muh-DEE'-neh-zhahd) was elected in 2005, after quarrelsome meetings with the new president. That move cemented Rowhani's reputation as a moderate who rejected Ahmadinejad's combative approach in world affairs.
With 50 million eligible voters and a strong turnout -- one hardline newspaper estimated it at 75 percent -- it's unclear when a final count will be known.
APPHOTO CARS103: A woman places her ballot in a box as Iranians outside their country of origin cast ballots in Iran's presidential election, in a hotel meeting room in Los Angeles Friday, June 14, 2013. Iranian-Americans and expatriates cast ballots Friday in polling places across the United States, joining their countrymen half a world away in selecting the next Iranian president (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) (14 Jun 2013)