Middle East/North Africa

Hard-line Iranian cleric wins presidency

ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images
Iranian judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi greets journalists as he arrives to submit his candidacy for Iran’s presidential elections, at the Interior Ministry in capital Tehran, on May 15, 2021, ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for June. 

The hard-line Iranian cleric with close ties to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei won the country’s presidential election Saturday with overwhelming support. 

Ebrahim Raisi, Iran’s judiciary chief, won 17.8 million votes, according to The Associated Press, which noted that voter turnout Saturday appeared to be the lowest in the Islamic Republic’s history. 

Comparatively, initial results showed former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei with 3.3 million votes, moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati winning 2.4 million and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi with 1 million, according to the AP. 

Hemmati and Rezaei congratulated their opponent Saturday, with Hemmati writing on Instagram, “I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran.” 

Rezaei also offered praise for Raisi, writing on Twitter, “God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems.” 

Raisi filed to run on the last day of registration last month and his candidacy prompted other hard-liners to drop out of the race to improve his chances of winning. 

Many — including former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose candidacy was rejected by Iran’s Guardian Council — had pushed back on Raisi’s candidacy, and expressed doubts about a free election due to his ties to the supreme leader.

Ahmadinejad, who had called for a boycott of the election, told CNBC in a Thursday interview, “I made it clear on the day that I announced my candidacy that I will not participate in the elections if the will of millions of people is denied for no legitimate reason, like it has been in the past.” 

“Any decision that prevents the people from influencing the outcome is against the spirit of the revolution and the constitution,” he added at the time. 

Several others had been disqualified from the presidential race, including reformists and those backing current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who oversaw the 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. and other countries, as well as its eventual decay under former President Trump’s administration. 

The U.S. sanctioned Raisi in 2019 over human rights abuses, including overseeing the execution of minors and the torture and cruel treatment of prisoners. 

According to the Treasury Department, the cleric was also involved in the violent crackdown on Iranian protesters during the 2009 Green Movement, as well as the 1988 extrajudicial killings of thousands of political prisoners.

Political analysts had predicted that Raisi’s win could complicate efforts by President Biden to renegotiate a nuclear deal, with Ali Vaez, Iran project director with the International Crisis Group, saying this week, “Raisi’s abhorrent human rights record, I think, will increase the price of diplomatic engagement for the Biden administration.”

Tags 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal biden administration Donald Trump Ebrahim Raisi Iran Iran president Iranian presidential election Joe Biden Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei The Associated Press Treasury Department

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