Wednesday, June 29

Iran’s presidential vote opens after hardline cleric’s rivals excluded Iran

Iranians are voting in a presidential election in which ultra-conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi is seen as almost certain of victory, after all serious rivals failed to run.

After a lackluster campaign, turnout was expected to plummet to a new low in a country exhausted by a punishing US economic sanctions regime that has dashed hopes for a better future.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cast the first vote in Tehran and then urged Iran’s nearly 60 million eligible voters to do the same before the polls are scheduled to close at midnight.

“The sooner this task and duty is accomplished, the better,” said the 81-year-old Khamenei, emphasizing that voting “serves to build the future” of the Iranian people.

Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi.
Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi. Photograph: Abedin Taherkenareh / EPA

But enthusiasm has been clouded by the disqualification of many career hopefuls and deep economic malaise that has led to spiraling inflation and job losses, the crisis exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.

“I am not a politician; I don’t know anything about politics, ”said Nasrollah, a Tehran auto mechanic. “I have no money. All families are now facing financial problems.

“How can we vote for these people who did this to us? Not well.”

Iranian opposition groups abroad and some dissidents at home have urged a boycott of the vote that they see as a victory designed for Raisi, the 60-year-old head of the judiciary, to cement ultra-conservative control.

Voters lined up at schools, mosques and community centers, some bearing the green, white and red national flag of Iran.

Iran has often flagged voter turnout for democratic legitimacy, but polls indicate that turnout may drop below 43% from last year’s parliamentary elections.

Results are expected around noon on Saturday. If no clear winner emerges, a runoff will take place a week later.

Election posters are relatively rare in Tehran, dominated by those that show the austere face of the favorite Raisi, in his characteristic black turban and clerical robe, who has been named in the Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.

For the exiled Iranian opposition and human rights groups, his name is indelibly associated with the mass execution of leftists in 1988, when he was a deputy prosecutor at Tehran’s revolutionary court, although he has denied involvement.

The election winner will take office in August as Iran’s eighth president, replaced by Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has served the maximum of two consecutive four-year terms allowed by the constitution.

After casting his vote, Rouhani told the public: “Elections are important no matter what, and despite these problems, we must go vote.” He acknowledged that he would have liked to see “more people present” at the polling stations.

The ultimate political power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader. But the president, as the top official in the state bureaucracy, also wields significant influence in fields ranging from industrial policy to foreign affairs.

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