Polls close in Iran presidential run-off

Run-off pits centrist Masoud Pezeshkian against hardliner Saeed Jalili in race to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash in May.

Polls have closed in Iran’s presidential run-off which pits centrist Masoud Pezeshkian against hardliner Saeed Jalili in the race to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash in May.

The second round on Friday comes as neither contender secured an outright majority on June 28, with Pezeshkian receiving about 42.5 percent of votes and Jalili some 38.7 percent.

While polls were originally scheduled to close at 6pm local time (12:30 GMT), they were extended until midnight local time (20:30 GMT).

The election is being held against the backdrop of heightened regional tensions over Israel’s war on Gaza, Iran’s dispute with the West over its nuclear programme, growing discontent over the state of an economy crippled by sanctions, and disillusionment following deadly protests in 2022-2023.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters, cast his ballot when polling stations opened at 8am (04:30 GMT), state TV showed.

“It’s a good day to participate in the electoral process,” he said in an address encouraging people to come out and vote.

“Hopefully we will choose the right candidate. At this stage, people should make an extra effort to elect a president by tomorrow.”

Iranians in Iraq vote in presidential election
Iranians cast their votes at a polling station inside Iran’s embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, on July 5, 2024 [Hadi Mizban/AP Photo]

Both Pezeshkian and Jalili cast their votes in the capital, Tehran.

Pezeshkian was accompanied by supporters, including former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, when he voted in a girls’ high school in western Tehran.

Backers surrounded Jalili as he entered the grand mosque in Qarchak, a more traditional and religious area southeast of the capital.

Several other prominent figures, including former President Hassan Rouhani, disqualified centrist candidate Ali Larijani and Grand Ayatollah Hossein Noori Hamedani, have voted.

Only 40 percent of Iran’s 61 million eligible voters cast their ballot in June, the lowest turnout in any presidential election since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Reporting from Tehran, Al Jazeera’s Resul Serdar said that one of the polls released shortly before the second round of voting showed Pezeshkian likely winning the race, but both sides have predicted victory in the end.

“But some say that surveys leading to last week’s election failed, so today there could be another surprise. Here the major concern really is the turnout.”

He added that low turnout is expected to benefit Jalili, while a high turnout would most likely boost Pezeshkian.

Shabnam, a 24-year-old PhD medical student who didn’t vote, told Al Jazeera: “I think the president in this country doesn’t have much autonomy, and the promises made during campaigns are empty, they lack substance and are just not genuine.

“Authorities keep saying every vote will bring legitimacy, people have been receiving text messages saying every vote is a vote for the system,” she said. “I feel like my vote would be taken advantage of and so I refuse to vote.”

Late on Thursday, Attorney General Mohammad Movahedi-Azad warned that political figures and media outlets must refrain from “baseless and non-documented” premature announcements of results.

“Before results are announced by the interior ministry and confirmed by the Guardian Council, any media move that will lead to disturbing the public opinion and suggest the early victory of a candidate will be legally prosecuted.”

Low turnout

Khamenei said participation was “not as expected” in the first round but that it was not an act “against the system”.

Last week’s vote saw the conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf come in third place with 13.8 percent, while Muslim leader Mostafa Pourmohammadi garnered less than 1 percent.

The election was originally scheduled for 2025 but was brought forward following the death of Raisi.

The rival candidates in the run-off have held two debates where they discussed Iran’s economic woes, international relations, the low voter turnout and internet restrictions.

On Tuesday, Pezeshkian, 69, said people were “fed up with their living conditions … and dissatisfied with the government’s management of affairs”. He has called for “constructive relations” with the United States and European countries in order to “get Iran out of its isolation”.

Jalili, 58, rallied a substantial base of hardline supporters and received backing from Ghalibaf and two other conservative candidates who dropped out of the race before the first round.

He has insisted that Iran does not need the abandoned nuclear deal with the US and other world powers to make progress.

The 2015 agreement – which Jalili said violated all Iran’s “red lines” by allowing inspections of nuclear sites – had imposed curbs on Iran’s nuclear activity in return for sanctions relief. The accord has been hanging by a thread since 2018 when then-US President Donald Trump withdrew.

Jalili has held several senior positions, including in Khamenei’s office in the early 2000s. He is currently one of Khamenei’s representatives in the Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s highest security body.

Still, in an unprecedented trend, several conservative figures have come out in support of the more moderate Pezeshkian, according to Vali Nasr, a professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins University.

“Jalili is too extreme, will exacerbate domestic problems and create blocks before resolution of outstanding issues with the US,” Nasr told Al Jazeera.

“His team is also viewed as corrupt and incompetent,” he added.

Notable figures who have called voters to cast their ballots for Pezeshian include Sami Nazari Tarkarani, who led Ghalibaf’s electoral campaign and Sardar Rashid, a senior IRGC commander.

In Tehran, 19-year-old Melika Moghtadaie said she voted for Jalili because she sees him as the best candidate to respond to the country’s economic situation.

“I hope that Jalili, if he gets elected, will be able to help improve the country’s economy … as we expect,” the university student told the AFP news agency.

Meanwhile, 40-year-old Hossein said he was casting his ballot for Pezeshkian, the candidate he said “can make changes”.

“During his campaign, it seemed to me that he raises the crucial issues with honesty,” he told the AFP.

Afarin, owner of a beauty salon in the central city of Isfahan, was less convinced. She said she sat out of the first round of voting, but cast her ballot for Pezeshkian on Friday.

“I know Pezeshkian will be a lameduck president but still he is better than a hardliner,” the 37-year-old told Reuters news agency.

Regardless of the result, Iran’s next president will be in charge of applying state policy outlined by the supreme leader, who wields ultimate authority in the country.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies