Iran’s current chief justice, Ebrahim Raisi, has comfortably won the country’s presidential elections in a vote marked by low turnout and calls for a boycott.
By noon local time Saturday, the conservative judge had won 62 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results released by the national electoral commission.
With about 90 percent of the votes counted, Raisi had won 17.8 million votes compared to 3.3 million for Rezaei and 2.4 million for Hemmati, said Jamal Orf, head of the electoral headquarters of the Ministry of the Interior of Iran. The fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, obtained around 1 million votes.
Since then, his victory has been confirmed by the commission. But Raisi’s rivals had admitted defeat even before the final results were published.
Reform candidate Abdolnasser Hemmati, former governor of the Central Bank of Iran, wrote to the new president-elect on Instagram early Saturday: “I hope that your administration will provide reasons of pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improve the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran. “
Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps, also admitted defeat. The outgoing president, Hasan Rouhani, congratulated his successor, but without naming him.
However, more than 4 million votes were found to be invalid. Local police forces announced on Friday the arrests of dozens of people across the country, some in connection with alleged cash-for-votes operations.
Historic low turnout in Iran after massive disqualifications
Initial results appeared to show that the race had the lowest turnout of any vote in the country since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, with about half of the 59 million voters voting.
The election also did not have international observers to monitor the day’s proceedings, in line with previous years. Voting was delayed at some polling stations due to technical problems with the electronic voting system and a shortage of ballots.
Raisi, a protégé of both Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his predecessor Ayatollah Khomeini, benefited from the disqualification of most of his strongest competitors.
In May, the Guardian Council, an unelected body that oversees elections in Iran, disqualified all but seven candidates, six of them from Iran’s conservative faction and three of whom withdrew before election day on Friday. .
As a result, many viewed Raisi’s electoral victory as a foregone conclusion. On Wednesday, Khamenei made an urgent call on Iranians to vote to “legitimize” the process and the system in general.
Turnout appeared to be much lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. Voting ran from 11 pm to 2 am Sunday at various polling stations across the country.
Both Khamenei and Iranian state television sought to downplay the low turnout, blaming interference from Iran’s western and regional rivals. The Islamic Republic has long cited electoral turnout as a sign of its legitimacy since it was established in 1979.
Raisi’s election does not improve prospects for the Vienna talks
The outgoing administration of moderate President Hasan Rouhani had reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in exchange for sanctions relief.
But this collapsed just three years later, when then-US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
Talks about the possibility of reactivating the agreement are ongoing in Vienna. But the election of Raisi, a hardliner, will do little to improve his prospects for success.
Raisi is now on the verge of becoming the first sitting Iranian president to be sanctioned by the US government before taking office. The travel bans mean that it will be difficult for him to make state visits to any country that respects the sanctions.
The US sanctions are related to his direct involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 as a member of Tehran’s so-called “Death Panel” appointed by Khomeini.
Raisi has also presided over human rights violations documented by the United Nations in his role as head of Iran’s judiciary, a position he has held since March 2019. These include arbitrary detentions and torture. More than 500 people were executed in Iran in his first two years in office.
His victory puts the hardliners in firm control of the Iranian executive at a time when Tehran is also enriching uranium to the highest level in its history.
Public anger directed at Rouhani over the collapse of the deal, and subsequently the Iranian economy, where inflation stood at around 40 percent last year, has also hurt those who would see Iran’s political system reshaped from within.
No prospect of imminent political change inside Iran
Raisi will now also be in command of what could be one of the most pivotal moments for the country in decades: the death of 82-year-old Khamenei.
While the president is considered the executive director of the country, decision-making powers in practice rest with the Supreme Leader. Raisi has long been regarded as Khamenei’s natural successor alongside the leader’s son, Mojtaba Khamenei.
Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote.”
Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shiite tradition as a direct descendant of the Prophet Muhammad of Islam, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran. The clergyman acknowledged in subsequent comments that some people may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”
“I beg all of you, the lovely young men and all Iranian men and women who speak in any accent or language from any region and with any political point of view, to go and vote and cast your votes,” he said.
The low turnout had led to some warnings that Iranians could be moving away from the current Islamic Republic system after 42 years.
Iran is currently run as a theocracy by a Shiite clergy, backed by paramilitary forces, while its democratically elected elements – the president, parliament, and local councils – wield considerably less power. The Supreme Leader has the final say in all affairs of state and oversees Iran’s defense and atomic programs.
Former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformer who served for eight years, said of the vote: “This is not acceptable. How would this adapt to being a republic or being Islamic? “
Reform politician Mehdi Karroubi, who has been under house arrest since the 2009 Green Movement pro-democracy protests, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, his hardline rival in that year’s election, boycotted the vote on Friday.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism