Iran heads to presidential run-off on July 5 amid record low turnout

Reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian could benefit if turnout is higher during the second round next Friday.

Tehran, Iran – The snap presidential election in Iran is heading into a run-off next week after reformist-backed Masoud Pezeshkian and hardliner Saeed Jalili emerged at the top but failed to secure a majority in a vote with a record-low turnout.

Only 40 percent of more than 61 million eligible Iranians voted, the Ministry of Interior said on Saturday, a new low in presidential elections since the country’s 1979 revolution.

The final numbers from election headquarters at the ministry showed that the moderate Pezeshkian received more than 10.41 million votes from a total of more than 24.5 million ballots counted, trailed by former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili with 9.47 million votes.

This is only the second time since the 1979 revolution that a presidential election has gone to a second round.

Conservative Speaker of the Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, with 3.38 million votes, and conservative Islamic leader Mostafa Pourmohammadi, with 206,397 votes, were knocked out of the race. Two other candidates, Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani and government official Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, dropped out.

Ghalibaf, Zakani and Ghazizadeh called on their supporters to vote for Jalili in the run-off next Friday in order to ensure victory for the “revolution front”.

Iran

The snap election on Friday came within the 50-day constitutionally mandated period to select a new president after Ebrahim Raisi and seven others, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, died in a helicopter crash on May 19.

Like all major elections in the past four years, the vote on Friday saw a low turnout, but the final number was much lower than the 45-53 percent suggested by polls.

The lowest presidential turnout in the more than four-decade history of the Islamic republic was the one that got Raisi into office, with 48.8 percent. At just below 41 percent, the parliamentary election in March and May previously had the lowest turnout of any major polls since Iran’s 1979 revolution.

The voter apathy comes as many are disillusioned in the aftermath of deadly nationwide protests in 2022-23, and as the economy continues to deal with myriad challenges including more than 40 percent inflation due to mismanagement and United States sanctions.

Hamid Reza Gholamzadeh, an Iranian foreign policy expert, attributed the low turnout to what he said was the reformist camp’s failure to activate the sector of the electorate which usually votes for it and drives participation up.

Despite the endorsement of heavyweight reformists such as former President Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani, Pezeshkian “failed to awaken that part of the society which is usually when we have a turnout above 50 percent – that usually comes from the reformist side”, Gholamzadeh told Al Jazeera.

“And I would interpret that as people saying they want change,” Gholamzadeh added.

A higher turnout appears likely when Iranians vote in the July 5 run-off since it would present a clearer choice between two opposing camps. That would mostly benefit Pezeshkian, who would need more votes to defeat the combined forces of the conservative and hardliner camps.

Pezeshkian, a prominent politician and former health minister, is backed by former centrist and reformist presidents and other top figures. He has promised to lift sanctions by restoring the country’s comatose 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and to bridge the widening gap between the people and the establishment.

Jalili, a senior member of the Supreme National Security Council, has promised to bring inflation down to single digits and boost economic growth to a whopping 8 percent, along with fighting corruption and mismanagement. He advocates a harsher stance against the West and its allies.

Pezeshkian was the only moderate of six people approved to run by the Guardian Council, the constitutional body that vets all candidates.

His backers have presented him not as a miracle worker, but as a prospective president who could make things slightly better while claiming a victory for Jalili would signal a major backslide.

Jalili’s name is tied with years-long nuclear negotiations in the late 2000s and early 2010s that ultimately led to Iran’s isolation on the global stage and the imposition of United Nations Security Council sanctions.

The hardline politician, who has been trying to become president for more than a decade, blames the camp backing Pezeshkian for compromising the country’s nuclear programme as part of the landmark accord signed in 2015, which then US President Donald Trump reneged on in 2018.

Accusing his opponent of inefficiency, Jalili and other conservatives have claimed a Pezeshkian victory would only mark a third administration of former centrist President Hassan Rouhani.

Two security forces were killed in an attack targeting their vehicle that was carrying ballot boxes in southern Sistan-Baluchestan province after voting concluded. According to state media, armed attackers targeted the car that was returning the boxes to the local governor.

Source: Al Jazeera