Iran’s Presidential electionsIran’s 13th Presidential elections were held on June 18, 2021, contested by seven candidates – Saeed Jalili, Ebrahim Raisi, Alireza Zakani, Seyed Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, Mohsen Rezaei, and Abdolnaser Hemmati. Three of these candidates including Mehralizadeh, Zakani and Jalili withdrew from the race on Wednesday, just few days before the final voting.
Iran’s 13th Presidential elections were held on June 18, 2021, contested by seven candidates – Saeed Jalili, Ebrahim Raisi, Alireza Zakani, Seyed Amir Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi, Mohsen Mehralizadeh, Mohsen Rezaei, and Abdolnaser Hemmati. Three of these candidates including Mehralizadeh, Zakani and Jalili withdrew from the race on Wednesday, just few days before the final voting.
Hardliner Ebrahim Raisi is set to become Iran’s President after a partial counting of the votes revealed a significant lead for him after Saturday’s Presidential elections. In the year 2019, Raisi was appointed the Head of Iran’s judiciary, an appointment that sparked concerns because of his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 after the Iran-Iraq war.
Initial results showed Ebrahim Raisi won 17.8 million votes in the contest, dwarfing those of the race’s sole moderate candidate. However, he dominated the election only after a panel under the watch of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei disqualified his strongest competitor, a move not liked by majority of the population, which boycotted the elections.
Raisi first came to prominence when he became the Prosecutor General of Karaj in 1980, when he was 20 years old. Subsequently, he became the Prosecutor of Tehran and the First Deputy to the Head of Judiciary from 2004 to 2014 after which he became the Prosecutor General of Iran from 2014 to 2016.
In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million votes, said Jamal Orf, the Head of Iran’s Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race’s 4th candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.
Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday, as the result was well known before the 1st vote was polled till the last vote was counted.
“I hope your administration provide causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.
On Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part in the vote. “God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.
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, even though the polling time was extended till 2.00 am early morning. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite 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 during the last polls of the 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. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.
“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. “I have no candidate here.” Like the remaining 50%, she did not cast her voting right.
Iranian State Television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in the Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get citizens out to vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.
But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the legendary Shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an Islamic Republic.
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 the 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, mostly young beautiful Iranian girls wore gloves. Abaya, chador and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.
If formally declared elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian President sanctioned by the US government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of the political prisoners in the year 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticised judiciary, one of the world’s top executioners.
It also would put hardliners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered nuclear 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, which has made Israel nervous. 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, and ex Mossad Head leaked that Israel was behind all such attacks.
Amnesty International has identified Raisi as a member of the “death commission” that carried out “enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions of several thousand political dissidents in Evin and Gohardasht correction centres / prisons / jails, near Tehran between late July and early September 1988. Victims’ bodies were mostly buried in unmarked mass graves.”
Raisi also has ties to the paramilitary group Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Former in charge of the Quds Force of the IRGC, Qassem Soleimani was killed in an airstrike whose responsibility was claimed by the US in 2020. The Quds Force was designated a Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the US in 2019.
According to Iran International, in these elections there were over 59 million eligible voters including 1.39 million first – time voters. Iran has a total population of over 85.9 million and those over 18 years are eligible to cast their vote. While the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini had urged people to cast their votes, the voter turnout remained 50%, much less than the 73% votes which were cast in the previous elections, four years back, which is one of the lowest in the history of the nation. Out of the total eligible voters, some 28 million people cast their votes.
A significant number of people did not cast their votes this time because they believe that the election is rigged and do not trust the election watchdog called the Guardian Council (a panel of 12 members including six clerics and six jurists appointed by the Supreme Leader) that disqualified some of the candidates favoured by the public.
The Guardian Council has three constitutional mandates:
It has veto power over legislation passed by the parliament (Majles);
It supervises elections; and
It approves and disqualifies candidates seeking to run in local, parliamentary, presidential, and Assembly of Experts elections.
The council consists of twelve members: six constitutional law experts and six experts of Islamic Law.
A hardline cleric, Raisi ran for elections against current President Hassan Rouhani in 2017 and was considered to be the successor of Khameini at a point of time. In 2015, it was Rouhani’s Government that reached a JCPOA deal with the P5 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council which includes the UK, US, Russia, France and China) and Germany and the European Union. Under the Trump administration, the US unilaterally left the deal in 2018 after which relations between the countries have continued to deteriorate.
His task is cut out for next 8 years. Some burning issues in Iran are:
The Excellency is under US sanction and trouble will be, how he will be able to get his sanctions removed and it will be a tough call for US;
The nation is going through tough economic sanctions and there is wide spread anger over economic hardships;
Severe curbs on freedom means many will heed calls for a boycott and only 50% of the eligible voters have voted as compared to 98.42% votes in the first presidential polls. This population must be brought into the main stream;
Senior officials had all through appealed for a large turnout in a referendum on their handling of the economy, including rising prices and unemployment and a collapse in the value of its currency. The Iranian Rial is the least valued currency in the world. It is the lowest currency to USD. For the simplification of calculations, Iranians regularly use the term ‘Toman’. 1 Toman equals 10 Rials. The inflation rate is around 30%, with regular shortage of critical medicines;
The new president has to rework the relations with India, as recently Iran government has moved closer to the Chinese leadership with long term agreements on oil exports and investments;
His rise to the top is opposed by hundreds of Iranians, including relatives of dissidents killed since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and political prisoners, had called for election boycott, the establishment’s religiously devout core supporters were always expected to vote for President Raisi.
The enmity with Israel under the ultra-right new Pm will rise as the new government will continue to support Hamas and Hezbollah in Lebanon and interfere with Egypt in rebuilding Palestine Authority.
To hold the post of Head Shia regime in Iran is always a ‘crown of thorns’.