Opinion polls and state-linked analysts place hard-line magistrate Ebrahim Raisi as the dominant frontrunner in a pool of just four candidates. Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati presents himself as the moderate candidate for the race but has not inspired the same support as incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who cannot run for the post again due to the limitation of terms of office. At noon turnout appeared to be far lower than in the last Iranian presidential election in 2017. State television offered close shots of polling stations, several of which appeared to have only a handful of voters in the early hours. of the election.
Those passing by several polling stations in Tehran said they also saw few voters. In some footage on state television, election officials wore gloves and masks due to the coronavirus pandemic, some wiping the ballot boxes with disinfectants.
If elected, Raisi would be the first sitting Iranian president to face U.S. government sanctions even before taking office for his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as for his tenure. at the head of the internationally criticized Iranian justice system – one of the best executioners in the world.
It would also firmly put hard-line supporters in the Iranian government in control as negotiations in Vienna continue in an attempt to save Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers as it enriches uranium in the United States. closest point yet to military grade 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.
Polling stations opened at 7 a.m. local time for voting, which sparked widespread public apathy after a panel led by Khamenei banned hundreds of candidates, including reformists and supporters of Rouhani. Khamenei conducted the solemn vote from Tehran, where he urged the public to participate.
Participation should be low
“Through the participation of the people, the country and the Islamic ruling system will gain great points in the international arena, but those who benefit first are the people themselves,” Khamenei said. “Go ahead, choose and vote. “
Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shia tradition as a direct descendant of the Prophet of Islam Muhammad, then voted from a mosque in southern Tehran, greeting those gathered to vote.
There are over 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a country of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian student survey agency estimated a turnout of just 42 percent, which would be the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in the country.
Fears of low turnout warn Iran could move away from being an Islamic Republic – a government with an elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader of its Shia clergy – to a country more closely ruled by its leader supreme. As Supreme Leader, Khamenei has the final say on all state matters and oversees his defense and atomic program.
“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change his theocracy from within during his eight years in power. “How would that be consistent with being a republic or Islamic?” “
For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” to reduce turnout in a speech Wednesday. A leaflet distributed in the streets of Tehran on Wednesday by hard-line supporters followed this thought, bearing the image of Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2020.
“If we don’t vote: the sanctions will be heavier, the United States and Israel will be encouraged to attack Iran,” the leaflet warns. “Iran will be in the shadow of a Syrian civil war and the ground will be ready for the assassination of scientists and important figures. “
State television also broadcast footage of a polling station set up near Soleimani’s grave in the town of Kerman.
Yet the disqualification of the candidates appeared to be aimed at preventing anyone other than Raisi from winning the election, as Khatami did in 1997 by surprisingly beating a hard-line supporter favored by Khamenei. This comes on top of public anger at Rouhani, whose signing of the 2015 nuclear deal collapsed after then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the deal in 2018. Iran’s already ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.
The vote “is expected to be the least competitive election in the history of the Islamic Republic,” wrote Torbjorn Soltvedt, analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft. “The election is heavily stacked in favor of candidates from the theocratic and hardline end of the Iranian political spectrum; there will hardly be a need for the most overt forms of electoral fraud that characterized the turbulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. ”
The decision to limit turnout comes as whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms, as nearly every Iranian president has done since the revolution. This means they could be in command of what could be one of the most pivotal moments for the country in decades – the death of Khamenei, 82.
Already, speculation has grown that Raisi could be a candidate for the post, as well as Khamenei’s son Mojtaba, who is said to have close ties to the Iranian paramilitary Revolutionary Guards.