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Khamenei says Iran elections are democratic, berates media in ‘some countries’

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Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei insisted Wednesday that elections in the Islamic Republic are competitive and democratic, criticizing countries whose media he said suggest otherwise.

“Interestingly, some countries that are run based on tribalism in the 21st century and have never had elections, so their people don’t even know the difference between a ballot box and a fruit box, launch a 24-hour TV station and claim Iran’s elections are not democratic,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.

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Khamenei did not name any countries, but his comment was widely interpreted as a dig at the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Khamenei’s remarks came as turnout in Iran’s presidential election on Friday is expected to be a record low amid widespread calls for a boycott.

Boycotters argue that elections under the Islamic Republic do not bring about real change and only serve to legitimize the regime. This belief is partially due to Iran’s vetting process for candidates, under which only candidates who the Guardian Council approves can run for election.

Elections in Iran “fall short of democratic standards due in part to the influence of the hard-line Guardian Council, an unelected body that disqualifies all candidates it deems insufficiently loyal to the clerical establishment,” US democracy watchdog group Freedom House said in its Iran report for 2021.

The Guardian Council is an unelected body responsible for overseeing elections in Iran. The council is primarily seen as a tool for Khamenei to control elections, as half of the 12-member vetting body is appointed by him.

Last month, the Guardian Council approved only seven candidates – most of them low-profile figures – to run for office and barred hundreds of hopefuls from running, including several prominent figures.

The candidates approved to run were judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi and six others whose chances of becoming president are virtually non-existent.

The Guardian Council’s mass disqualifications, therefore, were seen as Khamenei paving the way for Raisi to become president.

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.

Three out of the seven approved candidates dropped out of the presidential race on Wednesday, leaving only Raisi, former Central Bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati, former head of the Revolutionary Guards and current secretary of the Expediency Discernment Council Mohsen Rezaei, and conservative lawmaker Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi.

Hemmati, who some reformist groups have endorsed, is seen as Raisi’s main rival in the election, but he is not expected to challenge Raisi, according to official polls.

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