Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

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TEHRAN, June 20, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – Ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi was
declared the winner of Iran’s presidential election Saturday, a widely
anticipated result after many political heavyweights were barred from
running.

Raisi won just shy of 62 percent of the vote in Friday’s election,
according to official figures, on a turnout of 48.8 percent, a record low for
a presidential poll in the Islamic republic.

“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said outgoing moderate
President Hassan Rouhani, who has served the maximum of two consecutive four-
year terms and leaves office in August.

Raisi, 60, is set to take over at a critical time, as Iran seeks to
salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from
punishing US sanctions that have driven a deep economic crisis.

“God willing, we will do our best so that the hope for the future now
alive in people’s hearts grows further,” said Raisi, vowing to strengthen
public trust in the government for a “bright and pleasant life together”.

The head of the Iranian judiciary, whose black turban signifies direct
descent from Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, Raisi is seen as close to the 81-year-
old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate political
power in Iran.

Friday’s voting was extended by two hours past the original midnight
deadline amid fears of a low turnout.

Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls
including 40 women had been winnowed down to seven candidates, all men,
excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.

Three of the vetted candidates dropped out two days before Friday’s vote.

– ‘Save the people’ –

On election day, 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,” said Tehran
shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. “They organise the elections for the media.”

Enthusiasm was dampened further by spiralling inflation and job losses,
and the Covid-19 pandemic that has killed more than 80,000 Iranians by the
official count.

Among those who queued to vote at schools, mosques and community centres,
many hailed Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and
build millions of flats for low-income families.

A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed him for his anti-graft credentials
and in the hope he would “move the country forward” to “save the people from
economic, cultural and social deprivation”.

In the polls, Raisi beat ultraconservative Mohsen Rezai, a former
commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, who came second with 11.8
percent of the vote, followed by former central bank chief Abdolnasser
Hemmati on 8.4 percent.

Another ultraconservative, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, came last with
3.5 percent.

Khamenei hailed the election, saying that “the great winner… is the
Iranian nation because it has risen up once again in the face of the
propaganda of the enemy’s mercenary media”.

Raisi succeeds the moderate Rouhani, whose landmark achievement was the
2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear
programme in return for sanctions relief.

But he inherits a country in the grip of a serious economic crisis due to
US sanctions imposed after then president Donald Trump withdrew Washington
from the accord in 2018 and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against
Iran.

Iran’s ultraconservative camp — which deeply distrusts the United States,
labelled the “Great Satan” in the Islamic republic — attacked Rouhani over
the failing deal.

Despite this, Iran’s senior political figures, including Raisi, have
voiced broad agreement that the country must seek an end to the US sanctions.

– Nuclear talks –

The United States regretted that “Iranians were denied their right to
choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process,” a State
Department spokesman said, but added Washington would nonetheless continue
indirect talks with Iran on rejoining the nuclear accord that Trump
abandoned.

Analysts for think-thank the Eurasia Group said Raisi’s election win would
likely not derail ongoing talks in Vienna to salvage the nuclear deal.

But they warned that “his hardline, anti-Western views are a sharp break
from the more moderate stances of Rouhani and will have a significant impact
on Tehran’s relationship with the outside world”.

Abroad, Raisi was congratulated by Russian President Vladimir Putin and
Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, along with the UAE’s leader Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed
Al-Nahyan and the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas, which is supported by
Tehran.

Israel however said his election “should prompt grave concern among the
international community,” with foreign ministry spokesman Lior Haiat accusing
the ultraconservative of being “committed to Iran’s rapidly advancing
military nuclear program”.

Tehran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon.

Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed
monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major
influence in areas from industrial policy to foreign affairs.

Raisi, who holds deeply conservative views on many social issues including
the role of women in public life, has been named in Iranian media as a
possible successor to Khamenei.

To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to mass
executions of political prisoners in 1988. The US government has imposed
sanctions on him over the killings, in which Raisi has denied involvement.

Asked in 2018 and again last year about the executions, Raisi denied
playing a role, even as he lauded an order he said was handed down by the
Islamic republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to proceed with the
purge.