Iranian elections will hand over presidency to hardline judge
- Election considered to be a referendum on leadership performance
- Authorities call for strong participation
- Economic misery, US sanctions are key issues
- The diehard clergyman and magistrate Raisi are the favorites
- Raisi says he supports nuclear talks
DUBAI, June 18 (Reuters) – Iranians began voting on Friday in a presidential election likely to be won by a judge fiercely loyal to the religious establishment, though many are expected to ignore the vote because of their dissatisfaction with economic difficulties and intransigent rules.
With the uncertainty surrounding Iran’s efforts to revive its 2015 nuclear deal and the growing poverty in the country after years of US sanctions, voter turnout is viewed by Iranian analysts as a referendum on government management. leaders of a series of crises.
“Every vote counts … come vote and choose your president … it’s important for the future of your country,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said after voting in the capital, Tehran.
State television showed long lines outside polling stations in several cities.
The intransigent Ebrahim Raisi, 60, a close ally of Khamenei, is the favorite to succeed outgoing president Hassan Rouhani, who is prohibited by the constitution from serving a third four-year term.
A victory for the Shiite cleric would confirm the political disappearance of pragmatic politicians like Rouhani, weakened by the American decision to leave the nuclear deal and to reimpose sanctions in a move that has stifled rapprochement with the West.
But that would not disrupt Iran’s attempt to revive the deal and break free from harsh oil and financial sanctions, Iranian officials have said, with ruling religious officials aware that their political fortunes depend on fighting it. worsening economic difficulties.
“Raisi’s main challenge will be the economy. An eruption of protests will be inevitable if he fails to cure the nation’s economic pain,” a government official said.
Khamenei called for a large turnout on Wednesday, saying such a show of force would ease foreign pressure on the Islamic Republic.
Official opinion polls suggest the turnout could be as low as 41%, significantly lower than in previous elections.
Under pressure from rising inflation and unemployment, the clergy leadership needs a high number of votes to bolster its legitimacy, damaged after a series of protests against poverty and political restrictions across Iran since 2017.
Raisi’s main rival is a pragmatic technocrat, former central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, who claims that a victory for any hardline supporter will result in even more sanctions imposed by outside powers. Iran could hold talks with its longtime nemesis, the United States, if it adheres to a “positive coexistence” with Iran, he said during the election campaign.
Raisi enjoys crucial support from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful institution that over the years has opposed reformist initiatives, oversaw the suppression of protests, and used proxy forces to assert influence. region of Iran.
The middle-ranking cleric says he supports Iran’s talks with six major powers to revive the nuclear deal, under which Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
But Raisi, who shares Khamenei’s suspicions of detente with the West, says only a strong government can implement a relaunch of the pact.
Accused by criticism of human rights abuses stretching back decades – allegations his defenders deny – Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the post of chief magistrate in 2019.
A few months later, the United States sanctioned him for human rights abuses, including the executions of political prisoners in the 1980s and the suppression of unrest in 2009, events in which he played a role, according to groups. defense of human rights.
Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and Raisi himself has never publicly raised the allegations regarding his role.
Reporting by Parisa Hafezi, editing by William Maclean
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