Ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi was declared the winner yesterday of Iran’s presidential election, a widely anticipated result after many political heavyweights were barred from running.
Raisi won just shy of 62% of the vote in Friday’s election, according to official figures, on a turnout of 48.8%, a record low for a presidential poll in the republic.
“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said outgoing moderate president Hassan Rouhani, who has served the maximum of two consecutive four-year terms and leaves office in August. Raisi, 60, is set to take over at a critical time, as Iran seeks to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a deep economic crisis.
“God willing, we will do our best so that the hope for the future now alive in people’s hearts grows further,” said Raisi, vowing to strengthen public trust in the government for a “bright and pleasant life together”. The head of the Iranian judiciary, Raisi is seen as close to the 81-year-old Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate political power in Iran.
Friday’s voting was extended by two hours past the original midnight deadline amid fears of a low turnout. Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls including 40 women had been winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.
Three of the vetted candidates dropped out two days before Friday’s vote.
Populist former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of those barred from running by the Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, said he would not vote.
Ultraconservative Mohsen Rezai, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, placed second with 11.8% of votes cast.
He was followed by the only reformist left in the race, former central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, who scored 8.4%. Another ultraconservative, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, came last with 3.5%. Khamenei hailed the election saying that “the great winner...is the Iranian nation because it has risen up once again in the face of the propaganda of the enemy’s mercenary media”. On election day, pictures of often flag-waving voters dominated state TV coverage. “Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” said Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie.
Enthusiasm was dampened further by spiralling inflation and job losses, and the Covid pandemic that has killed more than 80,000 Iranians by the official count. Among those who queued to vote at schools, mosques and community centres, many hailed Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of flats for low-income families.
A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed him for his anti-graft credentials and on hopes he would “move the country forward” to “save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation”.
Raisi, who holds deeply conservative views on many social issues including the role of women in public life, has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.
Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in areas from industrial policy to foreign affairs.
Rouhani’s landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief. But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump charged it was still planning to build the bomb and was destabilising the Middle East through proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.
As old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted.
Analysts for think-thank the Eurasia Group said Raisi’s election win would likely not derail ongoing talks in Vienna to salvage the nuclear deal. But they warned that “his hardline, anti-Western views are a sharp break from the more moderate stances of Rouhani and will have a significant impact on Tehran’s relationship with the outside world”.
Supporters of Iran’s newly-elected president Ebrahim Raisi gather during a rally celebrating his victory at the Imam Hussein square in the capital Tehran, yesterday.
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