Judge Ebrahim Raisi has officially won Iran's presidential elections in a vote that appeared to see the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic's history, Iranian state media reported on Saturday.
28 million Iranians cast their vote Friday, just over half of the country's 59 million eligible voters.
Raisi won 17.8 million votes, Iranian state media reported. In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal Orf, the head of Iran's Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race's fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, Orf said.
Iranians voted on Friday in a contest that was expected to hand the presidency to Raisi, a judge who is subject to U.S. sanctions for alleged human rights abuses, including overseeing the executions of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.
"I hope your administration, under the leadership of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will make the Islamic Republic proud, improve livelihood and ensure the nation's well-being and welfare," said former central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati in a letter, media said.
In a televised speech, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani congratulated "the people's elected (president)", without naming him.
"Because it has not been officially announced yet, I will delay the official congratulations. But it is clear who received the votes," Rouhani said.
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Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials’ attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.
But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran’s theocracy has cited voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether people wanted an Islamic Republic.
The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal of America from the accord.
Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.
Raisi is the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world’s top executioners.
His win has put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels.
Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades earlier.