Iran’s hardline candidate Ebrahim Raisi, the conservative head of the judiciary, has taken an unassailable lead in the presidential election after 90 percent of the votes were counted, the interior ministry said on Saturday.
Raisi, 60, received more than 17.8 million out of the 28.6 million votes that have been counted, the interior ministry said, based on preliminary results.
“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.
Earlier in the day three out of four candidates in the fray conceded defeat to Raisi, a protégé of Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei who was widely seen as the frontrunner in Friday’s election marred by low turnout and the disqualification of many candidates.
Hardliner Mohsen Rezaei, a former commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, received more than 3.3 million votes.
He was followed by former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, the only moderate in the race, with at least 2.4 million votes, and conservative lawmaker Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi with more than one million votes.
The new president will take office in August as Iran seeks to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a sharp economic downturn. Iranian diplomats have been engaged in talks to revive the deal in the Austrian capital Vienna.
Al Jazeera’s Dorsa Jabbari, reporting from Tehran, said that Raisi is on course to a landslide victory in an election that saw the lowest voter turnout in Iran’s history since the revolution of 1979.
“How will the new president be able to convince the public that he can turn things around,” Jabbari said, referring to Iran’s crippled economy that remains the number one issue for Iranians.
Hamed Mousavi, political science professor at Tehran University, said that Raisi is taking over at a time of great difficulty.
“Iran’s inflation rate is almost 50 percent; it’s predicted that the government will have a huge budget deficit this year,” he told Al Jazeera from Tehran.
Mousavi also pointed out that Raisi faces a lot of difficulties from day one. “The JCPOA, better known as the Iran nuclear deal, is in shambles. Negotiations are of course taking place [but] we’re not anywhere near an agreement,” he said.
Rivals concede defeat
Even as the votes were being counted, Hemmati, the only reformist candidate in the race, congratulated Raisi for winning the election.
“I hope your government, under the leadership of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will bring comfort and prosperity to our nation,” former central bank chief Hemmati said in a letter, state media reported on Saturday.
Raisi did not immediately acknowledge Hemmati’s concession, nor that of Rezaei, who also conceded a loss.
Hashemi explicitly congratulated Raisi. “I congratulate … Raisi, elected by the nation,” Hashemi said, quoted by Iranian media.
Al Jazeera’s Jabbari said that 72-year-old Rouhani met Raisi at his office in Tehran to congratulate him in person.
In a statement, the Supreme Leader also hailed the “epic and sensational” participation of people in the elections, saying they resisted foreign pressure and persevered through the threat of COVID-19.
“Cherish the opportunity to serve the country and the people, and always consider serving as a motivation,” he advised Raisi and other elected officials on Friday’s elections without naming anyone.
Friday’s voting was extended by two hours past the original midnight deadline amid fears of a low turnout of 50 percent or less. Officials have yet to release turnout figures.
The interior ministry meanwhile, refused to confirm reports that the number of void votes exceeded Rezaei’s vote haul. If true, that would mean for the first time in the history of the Islamic republic, bad votes have finished second place.
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 of the race two days before Friday’s election, leaving four candidates in the fray.
The Supreme Leader is the most powerful person in Iran since the 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, but the president wields major influence in areas from industrial policy to foreign affairs.
Rouhani’s biggest achievement was the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.
But former US president Donald Trump withdraw from the accord in 2018 and slapped new sanctions, which choked Iran’s oil sales sending its economy in a tailspin.
Mousavi from Tehran University said that part of the reason for the results is due to the US sanctions.
“It’s debatable whether this was intentional or whether this was an unintended consequence but nevertheless throughout Iranian history, whenever there is US pressure, it always benefits the conservatives and it always turns into losses for reformist factions,” he told Al Jazeera.