Ebrahim Raisi wins Iran presidency amid low voter turnout

Raisi won 62 percent of the vote with about 90 percent of ballots counted from Friday’s election, poll officials said, without releasing turnout figures, after the three other candidates had conceded defeat. The vote sparked widespread apathy among eligible voters in the Islamic Republic.
Saturday 19/06/2021
A  file picture of Iranian cleric and presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi. (AFP)
A file picture of Iranian cleric and presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi. (AFP)

TEHRAN — Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief won the country’s presidential election in a landslide victory Saturday, in a vote that appeared to see the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.

The ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi was declared the winner Saturday of Iran’s presidential election, a widely anticipated result after many political heavyweights were barred from running.

Raisi won 62 percent of the vote with about 90 percent of ballots counted from Friday’s election, poll officials said, without releasing turnout figures, after the three other candidates had conceded defeat.

“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who has served the maximum of two consecutive four-year terms and leaves office in August.

His candidacy sparked widespread apathy among eligible voters in the Islamic Republic, which has held up turnout as a sign of support for the theocracy since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Some, including former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, called for a boycott.

In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.

Congratulations poured in for ultraconservative Raisi Saturday on winning Iran’s presidential election as his rivals conceded even before official results were announced.

The other three candidates in the race all congratulated him for his victory, which had been widely expected after a host of political heavyweights had been barred from running.

An Iranian woman casts her vote during the presidential election at a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021. (AFP)
An Iranian woman casts her vote during the presidential election at a polling station in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021. (AFP)

The 60-year-old Raisi takes over from Rouhani in August as Iran seeks to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a sharp economic downturn.

The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran’s previous elections, signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid the boycott calls.

As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shia cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country — as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past elections.

Balloting came to a close at 2:00 am Saturday, after the government extended voting to accommodate what it called “crowding” at several polling places nationwide.

After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.

The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.

Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

Raisi will be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the US government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.

It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the US and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.

The new president will likely serve two four-year terms. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the for the position of supreme Ayatollah, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

Reacting to the results of Iranian elections,  Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Agnès Callamard deplored the fact that “Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture. She said his election “is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”

The  Amnesty chief pointed out how Ebrahim Raisi had been a member of the ‘death commission’ which forcibly disappeared and extrajudicially executed in secret thousands of political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht prisons near Tehran in 1988.”

“As Head of the Iranian Judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi has presided over a spiralling crackdown on human rights which has seen hundreds of peaceful dissidents, human rights defenders and members of persecuted minority groups arbitrarily detained, ” she added.