Die-hard judiciary leader wins Iran presidency amid low turnout – .

Die-hard judiciary leader wins Iran presidency amid low turnout – .

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Iran’s radical justice chief won a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election, a vote that both propelled the supreme leader’s protege to Tehran’s highest civilian post and recorded the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic.

The election of Ebrahim Raisi, already sanctioned by the United States in part for his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, has become more of a crowning glory after his biggest competitor found himself disqualified in the Saturday vote.

This sparked boycott calls and many apparently stayed at home – out of more than 59 million eligible voters, only 28.9 million voted. Of those who voted, some 3.7 million people accidentally or intentionally canceled their ballots, well above the number seen in previous elections and suggesting that some did not want any of the four candidates.

Iranian state television immediately blamed the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and US sanctions for the low turnout. But the low turnout and spoiled ballots suggested wider dissatisfaction with the tightly-controlled election, as activists criticized Raisi’s rise.

“The fact that Ebrahim Raisi took the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran, ”said Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard.

In the official results, Raisi won 17.9 million votes in total, nearly 62% of the total of 28.9 million votes. If the spoiled ballots had gone to a candidate, that person would have come in second. After Raisi was the former commander of the hard-line Revolutionary Guards Mohsen Rezaei with 3.4 million votes.

Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, a moderate considered to replace outgoing President Hassan Rouhani in the elections, came third with 2.4 million votes. Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi was last with just under a million.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, who gave the results, did not explain the high number of spoiled ballots. The 2017 and 2012 elections each saw 1.2 million spoiled ballots. Iran does not allow international election observers.

Although Iran does not have compulsory voting, voters receive stamps indicating that they have voted on their birth certificates. Some fear that this could affect their ability to apply for jobs and scholarships, or to retain positions in government or security forces.

Abroad, Syrian President Bashar Assad immediately congratulated Raisi’s victory. Iran was instrumental in keeping Assad in the presidency amid his country’s bitter decade-long war.

Separate congratulations came from the ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who is also the vice president and prime minister of the UAE with hereditary power. The UAE has been trying to defuse tensions with Iran since a series of attacks on ships off its coast in 2019 that the US Navy blamed on Iran.

Oman also congratulated Raisi, who served as the interlocutor between Tehran and the West.

Iran’s big rival Israel, however, has criticized the new ruler. Foreign Minister Yair Lapid called Raisi “Tehran’s butcher” and called him responsible for the deaths of “thousands of Iranians”.

Rouhani, who in 2017 dismissed Raisi as opposing his re-election as someone familiar with “executions and imprisonments”, met the cleric on Saturday and congratulated him.

“I hope I can respond well to the trust, the vote and the kindness of the people during my tenure,” said Raisi.

Since the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled the shah, the Iranian theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, starting with its first referendum which won 98.2% support and which simply asked if people wanted or not an Islamic Republic. Some, including former radical president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, have called for a boycott of Saturday’s elections.

A constitutional panel under Khamenei has disqualified reformists and those who support Rouhani, whose administration struck the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. The deal fell apart three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from America.

Raisi’s election puts extremists in charge of government as talks in Vienna continue to try to salvage a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program, at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest level, although still short of weapons – school levels. Tensions remain high with the United States and Israel, which reportedly carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites and assassinated the scientist who created his military atomic program decades earlier.

Raisi also became the first sitting Iranian president to be sanctioned by the US government even before taking office for his involvement in the 1988 mass executions, as well as for his tenure as head of internationally criticized Iranian justice – one of the greatest executioners in the world.

The State Department has said it hopes to build on the Vienna talks “whoever is in power.” However, he noted the lowest voter turnout ever recorded in the elections and described the Iranians as being “deprived of their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process”.

“Iran’s restrictions on freedom of expression and association fundamentally undermine the electoral environment,” the State Department said. “Hundreds of political prisoners remain in jail and we join the international community in calling for their release.

But America’s hopes for a longer and stronger nuclear deal following the Vienna talks could be called into question.

“Raisi’s ambivalence over foreign interaction will only worsen the chances that Washington can persuade Tehran to accept new limits on its nuclear program, regional influence or missile program, at least during the first mandate of Joe Biden, ”wrote Henry Rome, an analyst at the Eurasia Group which studies Iran.

Almost all Iranian presidents have served two four-year terms. This means Raisi could be at the helm of what could be one of the most pivotal moments for the country in decades – the death of Khamenei, 82. Speculation has already started that Raisi could be a candidate for the post, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Associated Press editors Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria, and Isabel DeBre in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.


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