RFL/RE – State television and rival candidates in a field dominated by hard-liners have said that ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi is on track to win Iran’s presidential election, with the vote count continuing amid signs of a historically low turnout.
The heavily vetted field of four candidates and scattered calls for a boycott had been expected to favor 60-year-old cleric and judiciary head Raisi, who has been accused by rights groups of crimes against humanity for his part in execution trials three decades ago.
One of those groups, Amnesty International, responded to reports of Raisi’s victory by repeating its call for an investigation into his role in those alleged disappearances, tortures, and murders and a “spiraling crackdown” on human rights.
But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran’s political and religious affairs, called the vote a defeat of “enemy propaganda.”
“The great winner of yesterday’s election is the Iranian nation, which once again stood up against the propaganda of the enemy’s mercenary media and the temptation of ill-wishers, and showed its presence in the heart of the country’s political arena,” Khamenei said in a statement.
He praised people’s “epic and exciting” presence in the voting.
Election officials and state media said by mid-morning on June 19 that Raisi had won 62 percent of the vote so far, with more than 17.8 million votes out of the 28.6 million ballots counted.
Iran has around 59 million eligible voters, signaling what could be a postrevolutionary low for participation.
The previous low for turnout in any Iranian presidential election since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that brought the current theocracy to power was 50.6 percent in 1993.
Final preliminary results could take days to emerge in a vote whose outcome was widely predicted after vetting authorities disqualified all but seven of hundreds of would-be candidates, three of whom dropped out before voting on June 18.
Turnout is being watched closely by observers, who see it as a referendum on the heavy vetting and the ruling theocracy’s handling of a growing number of crises, including an economy hit hard by punitive sanctions reimposed by Washington three years ago.
Khamenei said grievances over the economy and the pandemic as well as attempts to discourage people from voting and some technical glitches on voting day had no effect on people’s determination to vote.
In a move seemingly aimed at directing the international narrative away from low turnout and reformists’ calls to boycott the vote, Iran’s Foreign Ministry said on June 19 that it had summoned Britain’s envoy over “difficulties” for Iranians trying to vote in the United Kingdom.
Central banker Abdolnaser Hemmati, the only relative moderate left in the race after another quit the race on the last day of the campaign, tweeted his concession and congratulations to Raisi early on June 19.
“Congratulations to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the election of Ayatollah Raisi,” Hemmati wrote on Twitter. “I hope the 13th government can bring glory to the Islamic Republic of Iran, improve livelihood and livelihood with the comfort and welfare of the great nation of Iran.”
Many potential rivals were barred from running by the powerful Guardians Council that is overseen by Khamenei.
Election day saw many polling stations lightly attended, eyewitnesses said, although state-led media showed queued-up voters throughout June 18.
Outgoing President Hassan Rohani, who is barred from a third term, suggested that there won’t be a runoff.
“I congratulate the people on their choice,” Rohani said, without identifying the front-runner. “My official congratulations will come later, but we know who got enough votes in this election and who is elected today by the people.”
The other two hard-line candidates, Rezai and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, congratulated Raisi.
Raisi was one of the judges in 1988 who oversaw a series of speedy trials in which thousands of political prisoners were sentenced to death and executed.
Human rights organizations say he is guilty of crimes against humanity, and the United States has placed him under sanctions.
Amnesty International issued a statement on June 19 urging an investigation into Raisi’s past as a deputy prosecutor in Tehran and a member of the “death commission” responsible for thousands of disappearances and extrajudicial executions.
“That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance, and torture is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran,” the group said.
Analysts have suggested that a win for Raisi would signal the rise of anti-Western hard-liners to the detriment of pragmatists like Rohani, a key architect of the moribund 2015 nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Both Tehran and Washington have said they want to restore the deal, which was abandoned in 2018 by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Negotiations to revive the accord restarted in April.
Raisi has suggested he would favor continuing those talks.SEE ALSO:What Iranian Foreign Policy Could Look Like Under President Raisi
But Khamenei has said that he wants “actions, not promises” from the five world powers who originally signed the accord with Tehran, which has steadily flouted terms of the agreement by rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium and increasing its ability to enrich it to higher levels of purity.
Inflation has reached nearly 40 percent and the official unemployment rate stands at 11 percent, with the economy hard-hit by the U.S. sanctions and mismanagement.
Analysts say the vote could produce the country’s lowest-ever turnout, casting doubts over the popular legitimacy of the winner.
Two hard-liners also dropped out of the race on the last day, leaving four candidates for voters to choose from.
Hemmati, 64, served as Iran’s Central Bank chief before he was dismissed in order to run for president.
Public opinion polls suggested Hemmati’s support was in the single digits even after he gained some momentum late in his campaign by criticizing state restrictions and reaching out to reform-minded Iranians.
A survey conducted by the Iranian Student Polling Agency suggests that only 42 percent of the country’s 59 million registered voters planned to cast ballots. If prediction holds true, it would be a massive decline compared to the 73 percent turnout for Iran’s last presidential election in 2017.
Many Iranians have said they will not be voting due to severely restricted choices. They also cited frustration over the economy, state repression, and disillusionment with politicians who have failed to bring change.