Apathy hails Iranian presidential vote dominated by hard-line supporters
The Iranians voted on Friday in a presidential election dominated by the supreme leader’s uncompromising protege Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after the disqualification of his strongest competitor, fueling the apathy that has left some polling stations largely deserted despite the calls to support the Islamic Republic at the polls.
Opinion polls conducted by organizations linked to the state, as well as analysts, have indicated that the head of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi – who is already under US sanctions – was the front-runner in a group of only four candidates. Former head of the Central Bank Abdolnasser Hemmati presents himself as the moderate candidate but has not inspired the same support as outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, whose term is limited to run for the post again.
As night fell, the turnout appeared to be much lower than in the last Iranian presidential election in 2017. At a polling station inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played football with a young boy while most of his employees were napping in a yard. In another, officials watched videos on their cellphones as state television screamed alongside them, offering only tight shots of locations across the country – as opposed to long election lines. past.
Voting ended at 2 a.m. on Saturday, after the government extended the vote to take account of what it called “overcrowding” at several polling stations nationwide. The paper ballots, crammed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand overnight, and authorities said they expected to have the first results and turnout numbers by Saturday morning at the most. early.
“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the skills to do this,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name. . rushing to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the ballot box. “I don’t have a candidate here.”
Iranian state television has sought to downplay participation, singling out the Arab sheikhs in the Gulf around it, led by hereditary rulers and low participation in Western democracies. After a day of escalating authorities’ attempts to get the vote out, state television overnight aired scenes from crowded voting booths in several provinces, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.
But since the 1979 revolution toppled the shah, the Iranian theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, starting with its first referendum which won 98.2% support and which simply asked if people wanted or not an Islamic Republic.
The disqualifications affected reformists and supporters of Rouhani, whose administration both struck the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with America’s unilateral withdrawal. of the deal by then-President Donald Trump. The intransigent ex-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also barred from running, said on social media that he would boycott the vote.
Voter apathy has also been fueled by the devastated state of the economy and a moderate campaign amid the months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped the ballot boxes with disinfectants.
If elected, Raisi would be the first sitting Iranian president to be sanctioned by the US government even before taking office for his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as for his tenure at the head of the internationally criticized Iranian justice system – one of the biggest executioners in the world.
It would also give firm control to hardliners across government. as talks in Vienna continue in an attempt to salvage a tattered deal meant to curb Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium to its highest level, even though it is still below military grade levels. Tensions remain high with the United States and Israel, which have reportedly led a series of attacks target Iranian nuclear sites and assassinate the scientist who created his military atomic program decades earlier.
Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could lead what could be one of the most pivotal moments for the country in decades – the death of Khamenei, 82. Speculation has already started that Raisi could be a candidate for the post, along with Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.
Khamenei cast Tehran’s first vote, urging the public to “go ahead, choose and vote”.
Raisi, wearing a black turban that identifies him in Shia tradition as a direct descendant of the Prophet of Islam Muhammad, voted in a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric admitted in comments afterwards that some may be “so upset that they don’t want to vote.”
“I beg everyone, the lovely young people, and all Iranians, men and women, speaking in any accent or language from any region and with any political opinion, to go and vote and vote. vote, ”Raisi said.
But few seemed to answer the call. There are over 59 million eligible voters in Iran, a nation of over 80 million people. However, the state-linked Iranian student survey agency estimated the turnout to be just 44%, the lowest since the revolution. Officials gave no attendance figures on Friday, although the results could arrive on Saturday.
Fears of a low turnout are a warning. Iran could move away from being an Islamic Republic – a government with an elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader of its Shiite clergy – to a country more closely ruled by its supreme leader, who has already finalized say on all issues state and oversees its defense and atomic program.
“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change theocracy from within during eight years in power. “How would that be consistent with being a republic or Islamic?” “
For his part, Khamenei warned of “foreign plots” to reduce turnout in a speech Wednesday. A leaflet distributed in the streets of Tehran by hard-line supporters echoed this and bore the image of Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in 2020. A polling station was set up near Soleimani’s grave on Friday.
Some voters seemed to echo this call.
“We cannot leave our fate in the hands of foreigners and let them decide for us and create conditions that will be absolutely detrimental to us,” said Shahla Pazouki, a voter of Tehran.
Public anger directed at Rouhani over the failure of the deal, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it, is also hurting a moderate like Hemmati. Iran’s already ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.
“It’s unnecessary,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed person living in southern Tehran, of the vote. “Anyone who wins the election after a while says that he cannot solve the problem of the economy because of the intervention of influential people. He then forgets his promises and we, the poor, are again disappointed.