Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei urged Iranians on Wednesday to vote in the country’s presidential election on Friday, saying there is a direct correlation between voter turnout and external pressures on the Islamic Republic.
“If people’s participation is reduced, the pressure from the enemy increases … if we want to reduce the pressures and sanctions, the people’s participation must increase and the popular support the regime enjoys must be shown to the enemy,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.
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Khamenei said all Iranians, regardless of their political preferences, should vote on Friday.
He accused US and British media of working to discourage Iranians from voting and trying to undermine the election.
Turnout is expected to be a record low amid growing public discontent.
Three out of the seven candidates approved to run dropped out of the presidential race on Wednesday: former vice president and only reformist in the vote Mohsen Mehralizadeh; conservative lawmaker Alireza Zakani; and former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, also a conservative.
While Mehralizadeh did not publicly endorse any candidate, his withdrawal was seen as an effort aimed at boosting the chances of former Central Bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, who is considered a “moderate” compared with the other candidates. Some reformist groups have endorsed Hemmati.
Zakani and Jalili, on the other hand, said they pulled out of the race in favor of judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, who is seen as the favorite to succeed the incumbent President Hassan Rouhani.
Raisi, 60, is frequently mentioned as a possible successor to Khamenei, and an election win could increase his chances of becoming Iran’s next supreme leader.
Raisi was appointed by Khamenei in 2019 as head of the judiciary, one of the most powerful positions within the Iranian establishment.
The senior judge was one of the main perpetrators of Iran’s mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s, rights groups say.
Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions and Raisi himself has never publicly addressed the allegations against him.
In 2019, the US sanctioned Raisi for human rights abuses, including the 1980s executions.
The other two remaining candidates, besides Raisi and Hemmati, are former head of the Revolutionary Guards and current secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council Mohsen Rezaei and conservative lawmaker Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi.
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