• Thursday, Jul 29, 2021
  • Last Update : 04:03 am

Iran votes for new president with ultraconservative tipped to win

  • Published at 01:30 pm June 18th, 2021
Iran Ayatollah Ali Khamenei presidential election
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his vote during the presidential election in Tehran, Iran June 18, 2021 Reuters

Results are expected on Saturday noon

Iranians voted on Friday in a presidential election in which ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi is seen as all but certain to coast to victory after all serious rivals were barred from running. 

After a lacklustre campaign, turnout was expected to fall to a new low in a country exhausted by a punishing regime of US economic sanctions that has dashed the hopes of many for a brighter future.

The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, cast the first vote in Tehran and then urged Iran's nearly 60 million eligible voters to follow suit before the scheduled close of polls at midnight (1930 GMT).

"The sooner you perform this task and duty, the better," said the 81-year-old, stressing that voting "serves to build the future" of the Iranian people.

Pictures of often flag-waving voters dominated state TV coverage, but away from the polling stations some voiced anger at what they saw as a stage-managed election. 

"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. "They organize the elections for the media."

Enthusiasm has been dampened further by the economic malaise of spiralling inflation and job losses, that has been deepened by the Covid pandemic.

"I'm not a politician, I don't know anything about politics," said Tehran car mechanic Nasrollah. "I have no money. All families are now facing economic problems. How can we vote for these people who did this to us? It's not right."

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

But many queued to vote at schools, mosques and community centres, some carrying Iran's green, white and red national flag.

One conservative mother wearing the full-body black chador came with her two young sons dressed in the camouflage uniform of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Many said they supported Raisi, who has promised an anti-corruption drive and to build millions of flats for low-income families. 

A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed Raisi for his battle against graft and on hopes he would "move the country forward... and save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation".

Dashed hopes

Ultimate political power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader. 

But the president, as the top official of the state bureaucracy, also wields significant influence in fields from industrial policy to foreign affairs.

Iran has often pointed to voter participation for democratic legitimacy -- but polls signal it may drop below the 43 percent of last year's parliamentary election.

Results are expected around noon (0730 GMT) on Saturday. If no clear winner emerges, a runoff will be held Friday next week.

Election placards are relatively sparse in Tehran, dominated by those showing Raisi, in his trademark black turban and clerical robe, who has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei. 

The election winner will take over in August from incumbent Hassan Rouhani, a moderate who has served the maximum two consecutive four-year-terms allowed under the constitution.

After casting his vote, Rouhani said that "elections are important no matter what" but acknowledged he would have liked to see "more people present" at the polling stations.

Rouhani's key achievement was the landmark 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-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and launched an economic and diplomatic "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran.

Heavyweights barred

As old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted. The economy nosedived and spiralling prices fuelled repeated bouts of social unrest which were put down by security forces.

Iran's ultraconservative camp -- which deeply distrusts the United States, labelled the "Great Satan" or the "Global Arrogance" in the Islamic republic -- attacked Rouhani over the failing deal.

Despite this, there is broad agreement among all the election candidates that Iran must seek an end to the painful US sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna.

Out of an initial field of almost 600 hopefuls for the presidency, only seven -- all men -- were approved to run by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 clerics and jurists.

Among those disqualified were former parliament speaker Ali Larijani and populist ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Then, two days before polling day, three approved candidates dropped out of the race.

The only reformist still running is former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, who has promised to revive the economy but lacks broad support and is blamed by many people for the runaway inflation.

 

"For the first time since the foundation of the Islamic republic, the election of the president will take place without any real competition," wrote former French ambassador Michel Duclos for Paris think-tank the Institut Montaigne.

Tehran blacksmith Abolfazl, aged in his 60s, told AFP of his disappointment as a patriot who had joined the 1979 revolution.

"I took part in a revolution to choose for myself, not so others can choose for me," he said. "I love my country, but I do not accept these candidates."

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