A glimpse from Iran presidential election

A combo of candidates for Iran’s presidential elections  Abdolnasser Hemmati Mohsen Rezaei Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi and Ebrahim Raisi.—AP

Iranian voters went to the polls Friday in a presidential election in which ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi is seen as all but certain to coast to victory over his vetted rivals. Among them were Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who is ending an eight-year term, and leading presidential candidate Raisi, a Khamenei protege whom many Iranians expect to easily win the race.

"Each vote counts. come and vote and choose your president. this is important for the future of your country", Khamenei said after casting his vote.

Iran has often pointed to voter participation as proof of democratic legitimacy - but polls signal the turnout Friday may drop below the 43 percent of last year's parliamentary election.

The only reformist still running is low-profile former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, who has promised to revive the economy and, unusually in Iran, heavily involved his wife in campaigning.

Regardless of who wins, Khamenei remains Iran's ultimate decision-maker in matters of foreign and nuclear policy.

Out of an initial field of nearly 600 hopefuls for the presidency, only seven - all men - were approved to run by the Guardian Council, a body of 12 clerics and jurists.

For the exiled Iranian opposition and rights groups, Raisi's name is indelibly associated with the mass executions of leftists in 1988, when he was deputy prosecutor of Tehran's Revolutionary Court, although he has denied involvement. He said he backs Iran's talks with the USA and other powers to revive the nuclear deal.

Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic - a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy - to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader.

Raisi's record as a hardline judge accused of abuses could worry Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts said, especially given President Joe Biden's focus on human rights globally. "How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?" A flyer handed out Wednesday on the streets of Tehran by hardliners followed in that thought, bearing the image of Revolutionary Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a USA drone strike in 2020. "Iran will be under shadow of a Syrian-style civil war and the ground will be ready for assassination of scientists and important figures".

With economic misery palpable at home, Iran's rulers can not risk starting the talks from scratch after the election, as the ruling clerics are aware their political fortunes rely on tackling worsening economic hardship. 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. Speculation already has begun that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei's son, Mojtaba. "This stance is a big no to the Islamic republic", she said. "The election is heavily stacked in favor of candidates from the theocratic and hardline end of Iran's political spectrum; there will be little need for the more overt forms of election fraud that characterized the turbulent re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009".

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