Polls close in Iran’s snap presidential election

Four candidates are in the race to succeed Ebrahim Raisi who died in a helicopter crash in May.

Iranians voted for a new president following the death of Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash, choosing from a tightly controlled group of four candidates loyal to the supreme leader at a time of growing public frustration.

Polls closed at about 12am local time (20:30 GMT) after a series of extensions on Friday to allow people to vote with Iranian officials pushing for a high turnout.

The snap election coincides with escalating regional tensions because of the current war between Israel and Iranian ally Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, Iran’s first direct attack against Israel in April, as well as increased Western pressure on Iran over its nuclear programme.

While the election is unlikely to bring a major shift in the Islamic Republic’s policies, its outcome could influence the succession to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s 85-year-old supreme leader, in power since 1989.

A council made up of six scholars and six jurists aligned with Khamenei vets candidates. It approved just six from an initial pool of 80. Two contenders subsequently dropped out.

Prominent among the remaining hardliners are Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, parliament speaker and former commander of the air force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator who served for four years in Khamenei’s office.

The sole comparative centrist, Masoud Pezeshkian, is faithful to Iran’s theocratic rule, but advocates detente with the West, economic reform, social liberalisation and political pluralism.

Iranians vote in snap presidential election
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballot in Tehran [Vahid Salemi/AP]

Turnout is key

Many Iranians did not turn out to vote earlier Friday because it is a weekend in the country and because of the hot weather. Many voters reportedly cast their ballots in the evening in previous elections.

Voter turnout has plunged over the past four years as a mostly youthful population chafes at political and social curbs.

Reporting from Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Zeina Khodr said voter turnout is key to the outcome because a higher turnout would give the only reformist candidate a larger chance. “The very fact there’s a split vote among the conservatives means the likelihood of a second round is real. The turnout is also important for the establishment.”

Khamenei called for a high turnout to offset a legitimacy crisis fuelled by public discontent over economic hardship and curbs on political and social freedom.

“The durability, strength, dignity and reputation of the Islamic Republic depend on the presence of people,” Khamenei told state television after casting his vote. “High turnout is a definite necessity.”

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said nearly 60,000 voting stations and 90,000 “voting points” were set up across the country, with more than 300 voting stations abroad.

More than 61 million people are eligible to vote inside and outside the country.

Mixed feelings

As voting went on, there were mixed emotions on the streets of Tehran.

“The election can be useful for the people, especially the people who are looking for the help or are looking to guarantee their future,” Maria Jaafary told Al Jazeera.

“I don’t have major expectations from these elections because in the hierarchy of the government here, the president is not the key decision-maker,” Amir, another voter, said.

Manual counting of ballots means the final result is expected to be announced in two days, though initial figures may come out sooner.

If no candidate wins at least 50 percent plus one vote from all ballots cast, including blank votes, a run-off between the top two candidates is to be held on the first Friday after the election result is declared.

Three candidates are hardliners and one is a low-profile comparative centrist, backed by the reformist faction that has largely been sidelined in Iran in recent years.

The next president is not expected to usher in any big policy change on the country’s nuclear programme or support for militia groups across the Middle East, since Khamenei calls all the shots on top state matters.

However, the president runs the government day-to-day and can influence the tone of Iran’s foreign and domestic policy.

All four candidates have promised to revive the flagging economy, beset by mismanagement, state corruption and sanctions reimposed since 2018, after the United States ditched Iran’s 2015 nuclear pact with six world powers.

In the past few weeks, Iranians have made wide use of the hashtag #ElectionCircus on X, with some activists at home and abroad calling for an election boycott, saying a high turnout would legitimise the Islamic Republic.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies