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Iran elections: Ebrahim Raisi, judge under US sanctions, set to take over presidency

Published: Updated:

Iranians voted on Friday in a presidential election likely to be won by a hardline judge subject to US sanctions, though many are expected to ignore the ballot amid economic hardship and calls for a boycott by liberals at home and abroad.

With uncertainty surrounding Iran’s efforts to revive its 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, the turnout is being viewed by analysts as a referendum on the leadership’s handling of an array of crises.

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After casting his vote in the capital Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iranians to cast ballots, saying “each vote counts ... come and vote and choose your president”.

The favorite to succeed Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist prevented under the constitution from serving a third four-year term, is hardline Ebrahim Raisi.

Raisi, who like his political patron Khamenei is an implacable critic of the West, is under US sanctions for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners decades ago.

“If elected, Raisi will be the first Iranian president in recent memory to have not only been sanctioned before he has taken office, but potentially sanctioned while being in office,” said analyst Jason Brodsky.

That fact could alarm Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts of Iranian politics said, especially given President Joe Biden’s sharpened focus on human rights globally.

A mid-ranking figure in the hierarchy of Iran’s Shi’ite Muslim clergy, Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019.

A few months later, the United States imposed sanctions on him for alleged human rights violations, including the executions of political prisoners in 1980s and the suppression of unrest in 2009, events in which he played a part, according to human rights groups.

Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and the 60-year-old Raisi himself has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.

State television showed long queues outside polling stations in several cities. More than 59 million Iranians are eligible to vote. Polls will close at 1930 GMT but can be extended for two hours. The results are expected around midday on Saturday.

Iranian people gather to vote during Iranian presidential election at the Iranian consulate, in Najaf, Iraq, June 18, 2021. (Reuters)
Iranian people gather to vote during Iranian presidential election at the Iranian consulate, in Najaf, Iraq, June 18, 2021. (Reuters)

A win for Raisi would confirm the political demise of pragmatist politicians like Rouhani, weakened by the US decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.

“Elections are important despite the problems and issues ... I wish we didn’t have any of those problems since the registration day,” said Rouhani after casting his vote, a clear reference to the rejection of prominent moderate and conservative candidates from the race by a hardline election body.

Official opinion polls suggest turnout could be as low as 44 percent, significantly lower than in past elections.

Read more:

Iran Supreme Leader casts first ballot in presidential election

Iran urges voters to set aside grievances, take part in presidential election

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