Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief won a landslide victory in the country’s presidential election on Saturday, pushing the supreme leader’s protege into Tehran’s top civilian position in a vote with the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history. Ebrahim Raisi received 17.8 million votes in the first round of voting, far outnumbering the race’s single moderate candidate. He dominated the election only after his greatest rival was disqualified by a panel overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had been in confrontation with the incumbent Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on a number of issues. Moreover, so was the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which has been pushing for the extension of military power in the Iranian state. Ebrahim Raisi is now set to become the next President after an election staged by Ayatollah ensured his victory. His opposition was disqualified and the voter turnout was the least since Iran became a republic at 40%.
Ever since former President Donald Trump pulled out of the JCPOA accord, Iran has been reeling under economic sanctions which have kept its oil off the international market. Moreover, Iranian proxies waging war across the Middle East have also come under tremendous pressure. This all led to Ali Khamenei securing the government with a man of his choice who can work willingly with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and at the same time increase more control over the state to subdue opposition.
Ebrahim Raisi’s candidacy, as well as the perception that the election was more of a coronation for him, prompted widespread apathy among eligible voters in the Islamic Republic, which has regarded voter turnout as a sign of support for the theocracy since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Former hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was among those who urged for a boycott.
Abdolnaser Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday. “I hope your administration provides 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, Mohsen 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.
Despite the boycott calls, the fast concessions confirmed what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been suggesting for hours: that the meticulously regulated poll had been a landslide victory for Raisi. As the sunset on Friday, turnout appeared to be significantly lower than in Iran’s 2017 presidential election. A Shi’ite cleric played soccer with a little kid at one voting station inside a mosque in central Tehran, while most of the workers rested in a courtyard. At another location, officials watched footage on their phones while state television played in the background, providing just close-up pictures of locations across the country, rather than the lengthy, twisting lines of the past elections.
Iranian state television attempted to downplay the turnout by pointing to the hereditary rulers who run the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms around it, as well as lesser involvement in Western democracies. Following a day of highlighting officials’ efforts to turn out the vote, state television presented nocturnal footage of crowded voting booths in many regions, attempting to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.
Reformists and supporters of Rouhani were hurt by the disqualifications. Rouhani’s administration negotiated a nuclear deal with world powers in 2015, only for it to fall apart three years later when then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the agreement. The status of the economy has also contributed to voter apathy, as has the lack of campaigning in the midst of months of rising coronavirus outbreaks.
President-elect Raisi would become the first serving Iranian president to be sanctioned by the US government even before taking office, for his role in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticised judiciary, which is regarded as one of the world’s top executioners.
It would also solidify hard-line control across the government as negotiations in Vienna attempt to rescue a shattered accord meant to limit Iran’s nuclear programme at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its greatest levels ever, albeit it is still short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions between the US and Israel remain high, with the latter suspected of carrying out a series of strikes against Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who established the country’s military atomic programme decades ago.
Raisi would almost certainly serve two four-year terms, putting them in charge at one of the most pivotal occasions in the country’s history – the death of 82-year-old Khamenei. Raisi and Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba, have both been mentioned as possible candidates for the role.
When Raisi takes over the reins of the Iranian government he would most certainly become the head of a state which will have the complete backing of the Iranian clergy, military and the supreme leader. Rouhani, a moderate leader by Iranian standards had been constantly clashing with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, who have been pushing for the extension of military power in the state.
Despite his shortcomings, Rouhani despised the power autonomy that the revolutionary guard wanted to attain. Since the killing of IRG commander Qasam Soleimani the clashes between the government and military had intensified. Soleimani was the second most important man in Iran before he was assassinated by the United States and it left a deep wound in the psyche of the Iranian conservatives.
Ayatollah thus staged the election and with Raisi on board as President, the three pillars of power in Iran will be on the same page. Under Raisi, Iran will have a more radical and extremist approach to foreign powers, which incidentally has been the reason for its current turmoil. The understanding and cooperation between the three power pillars in Iran will most certainly open Iran to a costly military rule and will lead to the destruction of every bit of democratic structure that had been conserved by Rouhani.