Iranians vote to elect new president

Nearly 60 million eligible voters in Iran will decide the fate of four candidates in the fray to succeed President Hassan Rouhani.

An Iranian checks the names of candidates during presidential elections at a polling station in Tehran, Iran [Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters]

Voting in Iran’s presidential election has ended, Iran’s state TV reported, adding that in some polling stations the voting had been extended for two hours to allow late-comers to cast ballots.

“Polling stations are obliged to accept ballots as long as there are people at polling stations,” the Interior Ministry said on Friday in a statement, according to state TV.

Nearly 60 million eligible voters cast their ballots in the presidential election amid concerns over a low turnout with the conservative head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, widely seen as the frontrunner.

The Guardian Council, a 12-member constitutional vetting body under Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei, barred hundreds of candidates including reformists and those aligned with Rouhani.

Polls opened at 7am local time (02:30 GMT) and while they were supposed to close at midnight (19:30 GMT), voting has been extended. The results are expected midday on Saturday.

After casting his vote in the capital, Tehran, Khamenei urged Iranians to do the same. “Each vote counts … come and vote and choose your president,” the supreme leader said.

With uncertainty surrounding Iran’s efforts to revive its 2015 nuclear deal and growing poverty at home after years of United States sanctions, the turnout for the vote is being seen by Iranian analysts as a referendum on the current leadership’s handling of an array of crises.

‘It’s not right’

Voter enthusiasm was dampened by the disqualification of many candidates and the deep economic malaise, which has sparked burgeoning inflation and job losses and was worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m not a politician, I don’t know anything about politics,” a Tehran car mechanic who gave his name as Nasrollah said. “I have no money. All families are now facing economic problems. How can we vote for these people who did this to us? It’s not right.”

Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from the capital, said there seemed to be lot of support behind Raisi. “The general public has one thing on their mind that they want some change from the moderate and reformist government they have seen over the past eight years,” she said.

“There is a sense that the economic situation in the country is not going to change any time soon. So they are hoping Raisi will bring some kind of change,” Jabbari added.

Iranian opposition groups abroad and some dissidents at home have urged a boycott of the vote they see as an engineered victory for Raisi.

Iran polls
An Iranian couple holds documents after voting in Tehran [Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters]

Speaking to Al Jazeera from Tehran, Hamid Reza Gholamzadeh, CEO of Diplo House think-tank, said Raisi was expected to win the election.

“Based on the polls he has between 60 to 75 percent popularity among those who will vote today,” said Gholamzadeh, adding that voter turnout was expected to be around 40 percent.

If 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 political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticised judiciary – one of the world’s top executioners.

Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shia tradition as a direct descendant of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad, voted from a mosque in southern Tehran, waving to those gathered to cast ballots.

Iran polls
Raisi casts his vote at a polling station in Tehran [Majid Asgaripour/WANA via Reuters]

A win for Raisi would confirm the political demise of pragmatist politicians such as Rouhani, weakened by the US decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.

But it would not disrupt Iran’s bid to revive the agreement and break free of tough oil and financial sanctions, Iranian officials say, with the country’s ruling elite aware their political fortunes rely on tackling worsening economic hardship.

Former central bank chief, Abdolnaser Hemmati, is running as the race’s moderate candidate but has not inspired the same support as Rouhani, who is term-limited from seeking the office again.

Hammati, the only moderate left in the race tried to use his background on finance to convince voters that he is fit for the job.

“I have come to defend a very last peace of democracy that remains. I am voting for Hammati as the most important issue right now is the economy I hope he can fix it,” a male voter in Tehran said.

The remaining two candidates are 66-year-old hardliner Mohsen Rezaei and Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, a longtime member of parliament from Mashhad.

Although reformist candidates were disqualified or dropped out of the race before the election, Diplo House’s Gholamzadeh said that most reformist supporters were more concerned with the Rouhani’s performance and the internal divisions within the reformist camp than with the lack of representation at this vote.

“The only other major candidate who would have been running was Ali Larijani, who was not a reformist. He was also a conservative, but for the last four years, he was very close to Rouhani and that’s why the reformists believed he could represent them. Those reformists are not dissatisfied that he’s not running, however, because he is not a true reformist,” said Gholamzadeh.

Iran polls
State television showed long queues outside polling stations in several cities [Ahmad Al-Rubaye/AFP]

Ultimate political power in Iran – since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy – rests with the supreme leader. But the president, as the top official of the state bureaucracy, also wields significant influence in fields from industrial policy to foreign affairs.

A blacksmith in Tehran, who identified himself only as Abolfazl, described his disappointment with Friday’s election as a patriot who took part in the 1979 revolution.

“I am over 60-years old and in my youth I revolted against the shah of Iran,” he said. “I took part in a revolution to choose for myself, not so others can choose for me. I love my country, but I do not accept these candidates.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies