| 26 February 2024, Monday |

Khamenei protege wins Iran election despite poor turnout

After a battle marked by voter apathy over economic problems and political limitations, Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative jurist sanctioned by the US for human rights breaches, won as expected in Iran’s presidential election on Saturday.

Raisi was elected with 17.9 million votes after all 28.9 million ballots were tabulated, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli declared on state television.

In Friday’s four-man election, turnout was a record low of roughly 48.8%, and there were 3.7 million invalid ballots, most of which were presumably blank or protest votes.

Appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019, Raisi was placed under U.S. sanctions a few months later over human rights violations.

Those included the role that human rights group say Raisi played in the executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1988 and in the violent suppression of unrest in 2009.

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

Raisi, 60, had been widely expected to win the campaign, thanks to Khamenei’s endorsement, by analysts and insiders as representing the security establishment at its most menacing.

Raisi’s election was hailed by Iran’s regional allies, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and militant Islamist group Hamas. His win, according to Amnesty International Secretary General Agnès Callamard, is “a terrible reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran.”

“We continue to urge for Ebrahim Raisi to be investigated under international law for his role in past and continuing crimes, including by governments with universal jurisdiction,” she said in a statement.

Outgoing pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, barred by the constitution from seeking a third term, visited Raisi at his office to congratulate him, and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said he would lead Iran well.

“Backed by your high vote and exceptional confidence, I will form a hard-working, revolutionary and anti-corruption government,” state media quoted Raisi as saying in a statement.

Raisi, who takes office in early August, said he will be a president for all Iranians – whether they voted for him or for the other candidates, or did not vote at all.


Raisi’s election comes at a critical time.

Iran and six major powers are in talks to revive their 2015 nuclear deal. Donald Trump, U.S. president at the time, abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions that have squeezed Iran’s oil income.

However, with Iran’s ruling clerics aware their political fortunes rely on tackling worsening economic hardships, Raisi’s win will not disrupt Iran’s effort to revive the pact and break free of tough U.S. oil and financial sanctions.

Despite this, some analysts believe his tough policies will repel international investors.

“If a deal is made, Raisi’s extreme political and economic principles would limit the possibilities for large foreign investment and further isolate Tehran from the West,” said Eurasia Group senior analyst Henry Rome.

On all matters of state, including Iran’s foreign and nuclear policies, Khamenei, not the president, has the final say.

Raisi has vowed to create millions of jobs and combat inflation in order to win over voters who are focused with everyday difficulties. However, he has not offered a specific political or economic platform.


The country’s clerical rulers had pushed citizens to vote on Friday in order to strengthen their legitimacy, but simmering discontent over economic problems and restrictions on liberties kept many Iranians at home.

The turnout, according to Khamenei, demonstrated the clerical establishment’s popularity. However, more than half of eligible voters were either too unsatisfied to vote or appeared to have obeyed calls to boycott the election by hundreds of dissidents both at home and abroad.

A lack of choice was another barrier for many pro-reform voters, as a tough electoral body prohibited heavyweight moderates and conservatives from running.

A U.S. State Department spokesperson said on Friday: “Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process” – a likely reference to the disqualification of candidates.

Many reformers Iranians are concerned that Raisi’s presidency will bring more tyranny.

“I’m terrified. I don’t want to return to prison. Any form of opposition, I am certain, will not be permitted “Hamidreza, 31, who did not want to provide his full name, said He was imprisoned in 2019 for his role in a riot that erupted over fuel price hikes and swiftly turned political.

Analysts believe Raisi’s election victory will improve his chances of succeeding Khamenei, who spent two terms as president before ascending to the position of supreme leader in 1989.

  • Reuters