Raisi takes lead in Iran's presidential election with over 17.8 mln votes

Clay Curtis
June 19, 2021

"I'm not a politician, I don't know anything about politics", said Tehran auto mechanic Nasrollah.

"Our people's grievances over shortcomings are real, but if it is the reason for not participating, then it is wrong".

State television also aired footage of a polling station set up by Soleimani's grave in the city of Kerman.

State television said voting officially ended at 1930 GMT. But in Iran's political system it is the country's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the top religious cleric, who has the final say on all state matters.

"Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected", scoffed Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie about the pre-election vetting that barred all but seven of the more than 600 hopefuls.

"Every time I voted in the past, I had hope that my living standard would improve".

"Through the participation of the people the country and the Islamic ruling system will win great points in the worldwide arena, but the ones who benefit first are the people themselves", Khamenei said.

Khamenei hopes a victorious Raisi will help clean up some of the systemic corruption in Iran's power structures, said Prague-based Iranian journalist Behnam Gholipour, speaking to VOA Persian.

Iran's Guardian Council, the constitutional watchdog tasked with approving candidates, allowed only Raisi and six other lesser-known Khamenei loyalists to run in the election, barring hundreds of other presidential hopefuls, including several politicians who have prominent public profiles comparable to Raisi's. The disqualifications sparked a weekslong campaign by Khamenei's Iranian critics inside and outside the country to encourage a boycott of what they described as a sham election. She said contrary to what state TV reported, "the polling stations are nearly empty here".

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This combination of four photos shows candidates for the June 18, 2021, Iranian presidential elections from left to right; Abdolnasser Hemmati, Mohsen Rezaei, Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi and Ebrahim Raisi. Iran will be a more closed society.

Iranian opposition groups overseas and some dissidents at home have urged a boycott of the vote they see as an engineered victory for Mr. Raisi, the 60-year-old head of the judiciary, to cement ultraconservative control.

A win for Raisi would confirm the political demise of pragmatist politicians like Rouhani, weakened by the USA decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West. Iran's currency, the rial, has lost 70% in value since 2018.

Under pressure over rising inflation and joblessness, at about 39% and 11% respectively, the clerical leadership needs a high vote count to boost its legitimacy, damaged after a series of protests against poverty and political curbs since 2017. However, the state-linked Iranian Student Polling Agency has estimated a turnout will be just 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution.

Raisi's record as a hardline judge accused of abuses could worry Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts said, especially given President Joe Biden's focus on human rights globally. Freedoms will likely be curtailed even more than before. Biden has said a mutual USA and Iranian return to JCPOA compliance would be a precursor to a US effort to negotiate a stronger and longer agreement addressing other issues. "Regardless of the outcome, we will continue discussions along with our allies and partners on a mutual return to compliance with the (nuclear deal)".

The election comes at a pivotal moment for Iran.

While Raisi has expressed a willingness to revive the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, in line with Khamenei's wishes, his presidency seemed certain to mark a radical departure from the Rouhani era, with little prospect for liberalizing domestic reforms or any broadening of Tehran's relationship with the West, analysts said.

A few months later, Washington sanctioned him for alleged human rights violations, including the executions of political prisoners in 1980s and the suppression of unrest in 2009, events in which he played a part, according to human rights groups.

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