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PoliticsMiddle East

Hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi wins Iran's election

June 19, 2021

With the majority of votes counted, the 60-year-old arch-conservative cleric is set to succeed moderate President Hassan Rouhani.

Iran's president elect Ebrahim Raisi
Iran's president elect Ebrahim RaisiImage: ATTA KENARE/AFP

Iran's ultraconservative cleric and judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi has won the presidential election, the country's foreign minister said Saturday.

Mohammad Javad Zarif made the announcement a day after Iranians voted in a contest that was marred by boycotts and a low turnout. 

Raisi won 62% of the vote with about 90% of ballots counted from Friday's election, poll officials said.

Victory over 'enemy propaganda'

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hailed the election as a victory for the nation over "enemy propaganda."

"The great winner of yesterday's elections is the Iranian nation because it has risen up once again in the face of the propaganda of the enemy's mercenary media," Khameini said.

Outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani also said in a televised speech on Saturday that his successor had been elected, without naming the winner.

"I congratulate the people on their choice," said Rouhani. "My official congratulations will come later, but we know who got enough votes in this election and who is elected today by the people."

Other contestants — including two ultraconservative candidates, Mohsen Rezaei and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, and reformist Abdolnasser Hemmati — explicitly congratulated Raisi.

Raisi will succeed Rouhani, who could not run again after serving two consecutive four-year terms. He leaves office in August.

Reformists banned from fielding candidates

Low voter turnout

Over 59 million Iranians were eligible to vote at home and abroad in Friday's election.

In the run-up, however, Iranian opposition groups abroad and some dissidents at home had called for a boycott of the vote they see as an engineered victory for Raisi.

Hundreds of moderates were barred from contesting the election by the nation's Guardian Council.

Turnout appeared far lower than in Iran's last presidential election in 2017, when over 70% of eligible voters cast their ballot. Opinion polls suggested the turnout was around 44%.

What do we know about Raisi?

Raisi, 60, has been the head of the nation's judiciary since 2019 and belongs to the ultraconservative camp that most deeply distrusts the United States.

He is notorious for his involvement as a prosecutor in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in the late 1980s.

The EU and the US have imposed sanctions on Raisi for his role in the human rights violations that happened in Iran during the nationwide anti-government protests in 2019.

Rights group Amnesty International on Saturday renewed a call for Raisi to be investigated for his role in human rights violations in the country.

"We continue to call for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated for his involvement in past and ongoing crimes under international law, including by states that exercise universal jurisdiction," Amnesty Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said in a statement.

Raisi's win would also give more power to Iranian hard-liners amid ongoing talks in Vienna to revive the 2015 nuclear deal struck by Iran and world powers.

Raisi has harshly criticized President Rouhani since the nuclear deal began to unravel under former US President Donald Trump's administration.  

During the election campaign, Raisi vowed to keep up the fight on graft, construct 4 million new homes for low-income families, and build "a government of the people for a strong Iran."

What could a Raisi presidency mean for Iran?

The election came at a critical juncture for Iran. The nation's economy is struggling to cope with the harsh US sanctions imposed by the Trump administration, after Washington left the international nuclear deal.

The revival of sanctions plunged the economy into recession, and Rouhani came under fire from ultraconservatives for having trusted the West.

The country of 83 million is currently blocked by the US from selling its oil to and trading with much of the world.

As president, Raisi would be confronted with the nation's dire economic situation and foreign policy challenges.

But even though the president has significant influence to set direction on a wide range of issues, from economic policy to foreign affairs, ultimate power in Iran lies with the supreme leader, Khamenei.

Nevertheless, many observers see Raisi as a possible successor to Khamenei, who turns 82 next month, as supreme leader.

sri/mm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)