AP, DUBAI, United Arab Emirates
Iran started voting yesterday in a presidential election tipped in favor of a tough protÃ©gÃ© of Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, fueling public apathy and calling for a boycott in the Islamic Republic.
State polls and analysts have ranked tough Iranian Chief Justice Ebrahim Raisi as the front runner in a field of just four candidates.
Former Governor of the Bank of Iran, Abdolnasser Hemmati, is running as the moderate candidate for the race, but does not have the same level of support as outgoing Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who cannot stand for re-election due to a term limit.
If elected, Raisi would be the first incumbent Iranian president to be sanctioned by the US government before he took office for his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 and his time as head of the internationally criticized judiciary of Iran – one of the the world’s best executioners.
It would also put hardliners in control of the entire Iranian government as negotiations continue in Vienna over a tattered nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran, which has reportedly enriched uranium to the next point in weapon grade.
Tensions remain high with the US and Israel, believed to have carried out a series of attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and murdered a scientist who created the country’s military nuclear program decades earlier.
The polls opened at 7 a.m. for the vote, which has sparked widespread public apathy after a panel led by Khamenei excluded hundreds of candidates, including reformists and those close to Rouhani. Khamenei cast the ceremonial vote from Tehran, where he called on the public to participate.
“With the participation of the people, the country and the Islamic system of rule will win big points in the international arena, but those who benefit first are the people themselves,” said Khamenei. “Come on, vote and vote.”
Raisi, who wears a black turban, which in Shiite tradition identifies him as a direct descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, chose from a mosque in southern Tehran and waved to the crowd to vote.
In Iran, a nation of more than 80 million people, there are more than 59 million eligible voters.
The Iranian state student polling office, however, estimates a turnout of just 42 percent, which would be the lowest in the country since the Islamic Revolution in 1979.
Fears of low turnout led to warnings that Iran might move away from an Islamic republic – a government with an elected civilian leadership overseen by a top Shiite clergy leader – to a country more strict on its highest Leader is governed.
As supreme leader, Khamenei has the final say on all state affairs and oversees Iran’s defense and nuclear programs.
“That is not acceptable,” said former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, a reformer who tried to change the Iranian theocracy from within during his eight-year term in office. “How would that agree with a republic or an Islam?”
For his part, Khamenei warned on Wednesday of “foreign conspiracies” aimed at lowering voter turnout.
A leaflet that was distributed by hardliners on the streets of Tehran that day followed this thought with the picture of the late Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone attack last year.
“If we don’t vote: The sanctions will be tougher, the US and Israel will be encouraged to attack Iran,” warned the leaflet. “Iran will be in the shadow of a Syrian civil war and the ground will be ready for the assassination of scientists and important figures.”
The disqualification of candidates appeared to be aimed at preventing anyone other than Raisi from winning the election, as Khatami did in 1997 by surprisingly defeating a Khamenei favorite hardliner.
This has been paired with public anger against Rouhani, whose signed nuclear deal in 2015 failed after the then US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew Washington from the deal in 2018. The ailing economy of Iran has since suffered from double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.
The vote “is likely to be the least competitive election in the history of the Islamic Republic,” wrote Torbjorn Soltvedt, an analyst with Verisk Maplecroft Inc. risk consultancy. “The election is heavily voted in favor of candidates from the theocratic and hard-end of Iranian politics; the more overt forms of electoral fraud that led to the tumultuous re-election of [then-Iranian president] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009. “
The decision to limit participation came because the winner would likely serve two four-year terms, as almost every Iranian president has done since the revolution.
That means they may have one of the most important moments at the helm for the country in decades, which would come when the 82-year-old Khamenei dies.
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