Conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi has been declared the next president of Iran following his victory in the elections held on Friday, June 18. Media reports said he won won 61.95% of the votes cast. The 13th presidential elections concluded around 2 am local time on Saturday and saw a turnout of around 49%.
The elections were held amid concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of US-imposed sanctions and its impact on the economy and the question of the nuclear deal. There were also grave concerns over public apathy towards the elections. The results mark a consolidation of power by the conservative section of Iran’s polity.
While Raisi got around 29 million votes, his opponents Mohsen Rezaei, Abdolnaser Hemmati and Amir-Hossein Qazizadeh Hashemi got around 3.4 million, 2.4 million and close to 1 million votes respectively. Around 3.72 million votes were void.
Seven candidates were approved by the Guardian Council from a total of over 590 applicants. The Guardian Council, which closely supervises all major elections in the country, had rejected the nomination of some of the most prominent figures in Iranian politics, leading to the speculation that it wanted to ensure the victory of a ‘principalist’ or conservative candidate.
A principalist or conservative belongs to the group which champions the Islamic nature of the regime in Iran. A ‘reformist’ in Iranian context is one who advocates a relatively more secular polity with a greater engagement with the west.
Among the prominent candidates whose nominations were rejected by the council were both conservatives and reformists. Ali Larijani, former speaker of the parliament, and Eshaq Jahangiri, the current vice-president under Hassan Rouhani, were some of the major reformist names rejected by the council. However, the council also rejected the candidature of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, former president and a known conservative.
The Guardian Council is made up of 12 members – six jurists appointed by the supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and six lawyers nominated by the country’s chief justice and approved by the Majlis, the Iranian parliament. The council has many other constitutional powers, and one of its duties is examining all the nominations for various elections, including the election for the members of the parliament, assembly of experts and the president.
This supervision is supposed to strengthen the values of the revolution namely Islamism and anti-imperialism. However, the council has often been criticized for preventing any opposition to the system or possible challengers to the established leadership from contesting. Though some of the rejected candidates, including Larijani this time, questioned the issue of propriety of decision made by the council, there is no provision of appeal and hence until the supreme leader intervenes, no changes are made after the final list of candidates is published.
The predictability of the results, COVID-19 pandemic and growing discontent towards the successive Iranian governments due to their failure to address the basic economic issues of the majority of the population, particularly because of the sanctions, had raised concerns of low voter turnout in this year’s elections. Some of these concerns were borne out in Friday’s polls.
As per Iran’s Ministry of Interior, there are over 59 million eligible voters. There are 3 million Iranians living in other countries eligible to vote. In previous elections, the voter turnout was higher due to the presence of strong challenger candidates from the reformist camp. For example, in 2009, when Ahmedinejad was challenged by Mir Hossein Mossavi, the voter turnout was above 80%. In the last two elections, it had come down to a little above 70%.
The possibility of a low voter turnout had caused worry before the elections as well. Politicians across party and ideological lines had appealed to people to come out and vote, including the current president and leading presidential candidates.
President Hassan Rouhani had said that the election also indicated the legitimacy of the system, implying that diversity of political positions provides better opportunities for participation. Several prominent leaders, including speaker of the parliament Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and foreign minister Javad Zarif, appealed to the people to come out and vote. Qalibaf called the voting a “national and revolutionary duty.” In a video message, Zarif said, “the intelligent and widespread participation of people — at home and abroad — in determining their own destiny shapes national power, safeguards national interests globally, and is a key driver of constructive international interaction.” He also linked the higher participation of the people in the elections with the end of sanctions and breaking the “edifice of economic war” against Iran.
In the debates ahead of the elections, most of the conservative candidates focused their campaigns on the criticism of the current government’s failure to address the economic concerns of the people and COVID-19 outbreak. Iran is one of the worst affected countries in West Asia with over 3 million cases and over 82,000 deaths.
Most of the conservative candidates, including Raisi, also criticized the fruitless engagement with the west purposely followed by the current reformist led government and emphasized the need to develop the “locally-oriented style of state management” based on Iran’s domestic capabilities.”
On the other hand, leading ‘reformist’ candidate Hemmati has emphasized the need for engagement with countries in the region such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE and with the west. He has called the extremist position taken by Raisi and other conservative figures as playing in the hands of leaders like Donald Trump. He warned that a conservative victory may lead to more sanctions.