Ebrahim Raisi, Chairman of the Supreme Court, won 17.8 million votes in Iran’s 13th presidential election, which took place on June 18, Jamal Orf, Chairman of the Election Commission, announced. The other three candidates standing for election received considerably fewer votes.
But it was even before the official announcement of the results that other leaders began to congratulate Ebrahim Raisi – a conservative cleric – on his victory. According to Hassan Rouhani, the outgoing moderate president, his successor won fairly and the election was well attended. The 60-year-old Raisi will take over from the moderate Rouhani at a moment when the Islamic Republic is trying to salvage the tattered nuclear deal which it concluded with a group of major world powers, and thus to relieve it from the burden of the harsh and inhumane sanctions imposed by the US, which have resulted in a serious – and painful – economic crisis.
Many Iranians abstained from voting after the list of some 600 candidates was cut down to just 7, all of them males, with the former president and the previous speaker of the Iranian Parliament among those rejected from the list. Three of the candidates – of whom two supported Raisi – were removed from the list just two days before the election. Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of the candidates disqualified from standing for office by a decision of the powerful Supervisory Committee, consisting of 12 clerics and lawyers, was among those who publicly announced that he would not be voting.
On the day of the election state-controlled television channels broadcast footage of large flag-waving crowds – the country has a population of 83 million, but, further from the polling stations, many voters complained about the election, considering that the results had been fixed in advance. “Whether or not I vote, the winner has already been chosen,” chuckled Said Zareye, a Teheran shopkeeper, speaking to the Saudi newspaper the Arab News. Other factors which contributed to lack of enthusiasm among voters included rising inflation and unemployment, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic, from which Iran has suffered more than other countries in the region, with an official death toll in excess of 80,000.
Naturally, all these woes are caused by the aggressive policies of the US, which is seeking, by whatever means necessary, to break the will of Iran’s current leaders and prevent them from living according to their own rules and following an independent policy. Many of those queuing up to vote in schools, mosques and other public buildings voiced their support for Raisi, who had promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of apartments for low-income families.
After the close of voting, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei said: “What happens today depends on the people. It is the people who, through their votes, will determine the future of the country over the next few years.” Voting just minutes after polling stations opened, Ayatollah Khamenei took part in the 13th presidential election, the 6th Urban and Rural Islamic Council election, the 5th interim election to the Assembly of Experts, and the 11th interim election to the Islamic Consultative Assembly. The head of state emphasized the importance of public participation in determining the country’s destiny on voting day. He described voting in the election as a “wise choice”, continuing: “We have repeatedly called on people to vote in the election. It is the people themselves who will most be affected by their decision to vote. Naturally a high voter turnout can also bring our country benefits at an international level. But it is the Iranian people, above all, who will benefit from voting.”
In fact, in view of the current state of international affairs, this election is particularly important for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is being held after four years of aggressive US pressure on Iran under Donald Trump, who caused his country to unilaterally withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), as it is officially known. In May 2018, with a single flourish of his pen, he launched his aggressive policy of putting “maximum pressure” on the Iranians, once more imposing wide-ranging economic sanctions against the country in order to bring its people to their knees. The Trump administration optimistically hoped to drive a wedge between the Iranian people and the country’s leadership by exerting economic pressure. Political observers believe that Trump’s endgame strategy was to topple Iran’s political establishment by igniting social unrest and provoking uprisings of various types in the country.
But Trump failed to achieve his goal, because of his inability to understand the complex mentality and strong sense of national pride of the Iranian people, who refused to rise up against their government, as they were encouraged to do by their ‘wise’ foreign masters, and instead continued to support their political system despite all the economic problems. This election is the latest clear demonstration of the Iranian people’s support for the Islamic Republic, its political system and its government. Ordinary Iranians turned up in large numbers to vote for the candidates who, in their view, would serve them best. With a single pen stroke they determined their country’s future course at the ballot box.
Secondly, the election is a sign that the country has a healthy political system in which the people have a say. In the period leading up to the election the Iranian media and social networks were dominated by lively discussions on the voting process as a whole. The controversy began when the Council of Guardians, the legal body responsible for overseeing the electoral process, prevented high-ranking officials from standing for the post of president. While a number of commentators accused the Council of taking sides, others considered the disqualifications were legally justified. Some even praised the Council for its bold decision to disqualify such figures as Ali Larijani, pointing out that the filtering process was founded on strict legal criteria. Ali Larijani is currently serving as adviser to the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, and his supporters see his disqualification as a clear signal that no-one, however senior their post, is above the law.
What is more, during the debates, some critics even called for a boycott of the election. But when the polling centers opened the public ignored the calls to stay away and turned up to cast their votes. According to unconfirmed reports, almost 10 million votes had been cast by the middle of the day, and certain polling centers announced that there was a high voter turnout, and, in some cases, that they were running out of ballot sheets.
Raisi has been talked of in the media as a possible successor to Khamenei. In Iran, ever since the US-backed monarchy was toppled in 1979, supreme power has been exercised by the Leader of the Islamic Revolution, but the president has a great deal of influence in many areas, from industry to foreign affairs. He is responsible for Iran’s domestic policies, which are of particular importance in view of the fact that the country has, for several years, been suffering the burden of the heavy sanctions imposed by the US following its unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear treaty with Iran during the Trump administration. On two occasions during Rouhani’s presidency, these economic problems triggered nationwide protests. Iran has also suffered from a second wave of infections during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It is the president who sets the general tone for Iran’s relations with the wider world. But the president-elect will still be subordinate to Iran’s spiritual leader, who has the last say on all matters of state. Rouhani, who is 72, has served two consecutive four-year terms, the maximum permitted under Iran’s constitution, and he will leave his post in August. His most notable achievement is the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers, under which Iran agrees to limit its nuclear program in exchange for the easing of sanctions.
Iran’s Conservatives, with their deep distrust of the US, who they refer to as the Great Satan, or the “embodiment of global arrogance”, did not hesitate to attack Rouhani when the deal fell through. Nevertheless, all the candidates standing in the election, including Raisi, were largely in agreement on the need for Iran to secure the lifting of the US sanctions in the important talks on the renewal of the nuclear deal which are due to take place in Vienna. And the new president also faces a number of other challenges, no less serious, particularly in relation to the state budget and the economy.
Viktor Mikhin, corresponding member of RANS, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook” .