The only moderate in the Iranian presidential election yielded to the country’s radical justice chief Ebrahim Raisi, signaling that the Supreme Leader ‘protege Ayatollah Ali Khamenei won a vote he dominated after disqualifying him. its biggest competitor.
Former central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati offered his congratulations to Raisi early on Saturday. The count has continued since Friday’s vote, however, and authorities have yet to give official results.
“I hope your government, under the leadership of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will bring comfort and prosperity to our nation,” Hemmati said in a letter, media reported.
Raisi, 60, will replace moderate Hassan Rouhani as the Islamic Republic seeks to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with the great powers and break free from US sanctions that have resulted in a painful economic downturn.
Raisi, the head of the judiciary whose black turban signifies direct descent from the Prophet of Islam Mohammed, is considered close to the 81-year-old Supreme Leader, who holds ultimate political power in Iran.
Friday’s vote was extended two hours past the original midnight deadline due to fears of a low turnout of 50% or less.
Many voters chose to stay away after the field of 600 candidates was narrowed to seven candidates, all men, excluding a former speaker and a former speaker of parliament.
Three of the selected candidates dropped out of the race two days before Friday’s election, and two of them gave their support to Raisi.
Former populist President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of those disqualified by the powerful Guardian Council made up of 12 clergy and legal experts, joined those who said they would not vote.
Raisi’s only rival in the reformist camp was the low-key former central bank chief Hemmati, 65, who had voted in single digits ahead of the election.
Experts have estimated that the election could mark a turning point in the country’s history and a fundamental crisis of legitimacy for the regime if turnout fueled by disillusionment falls below 50%.
Sadegh Zibakalam, a prominent professor of politics at the University of Tehran, said the regime has defended itself over the past decades by calling voter turnout an indirect sign of support and almost a referendum for the Islamic republic.
“It will be a turning point because a majority does not participate in the elections and it means that a majority no longer supports the Islamic Republic. This is the crucial point of this election, ”he said during a seminar at King’s College London in Tehran.
On election day, images of voters often waving flags in the country of 83 million people dominated state television coverage, but away from the polling stations, some expressed their anger at what they saw as a election organized in stages.
“Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” Tehran trader Saeed Zareie mocked. “They organize the elections for the media.
The enthusiasm was further dampened by the economic malaise of soaring inflation and job losses, and the pandemic which proved deadlier in Iran than anywhere else in the region, killing more than 80,000 people according to the official count.
Of those who lined up to vote in schools, mosques and community centers, many said they supported Raisi, who pledged to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of people. apartments for low-income families.
A nurse named Sahebiyan said she supported the frontrunner for his anti-transplant credentials and in the hope that he would “move the country forward … and save the people from economic, cultural and social misery.”
Raisi has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.
For opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. The US government sanctioned him for the purge, in which Raisi denied playing a role.
Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution overthrew the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in areas ranging from industrial policy to foreign affairs.
Rouhani, 72, left office in August after serving the constitutionally allowed maximum of two consecutive four-year terms.
Its historic achievement was the 2015 agreement with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
But high hopes for greater prosperity were dashed in 2018 when then-US President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal and launched a campaign of “maximum pressure” sanctions against China. Iran.
While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump has accused that he still plans to build the bomb and destabilize the Middle East through proxy armed groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and the United States. Yemen.
As the old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies fled. The economy plunged and soaring prices fueled repeated episodes of social unrest that were quelled by security forces.
Iran’s ultraconservative camp – which deeply distrusts the United States, has called the Islamic Republic’s “Great Satan” or “Global Arrogance” – has attacked Rouhani over the collapse of the deal.
Despite this, there is broad agreement among all candidates, including Raisi, that Iran must seek to end US sanctions in the ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at reviving the nuclear deal.