Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric and judicial leader, has won Iran’s presidential election in a landslide victory that will put the regime’s hardliners in full control of all branches of the state for the first time in nearly a decade.
Raisi, who many Iranians believe was the favorite candidate of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, won nearly 18 million votes after 90 percent of the vote was tallied in Friday’s election.
His closest rival, Mohsen Rezaei, a senior conservative general, got just 3.3 million votes, while the lone reformist candidate, Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former central bank governor, got 2.4 million.
The cleric’s victory means that hardliners, who won an overwhelming majority in last year’s parliamentary elections and controlled the judiciary and military, are now at their most powerful since 2013. Reformers, who advocate greater involvement with the West, have turned to the margin pushed.
The elections were held at a critical time for the Islamic Republic and the region. The Biden administration is seeking to ease tension in the Middle East fueled by Donald Trump’s 2018 decision to unilaterally withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear deal and impose sanctions on the nation.
Raisi has said his government would continue negotiations with the remaining signatories to the deal – the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.
But hardliners will want to negotiate on their own terms, as the second and final term of President Hassan Rouhani’s centrist government ends in August. The election of Raisi, who has headed the judiciary for the past two years and was the subject of Trump administration sanctions in 2019 for targeting dozens of senior government officials, threatens to complicate those talks.
Raisi’s victory means Iran is even more unlikely to curtail its support for militant groups in the region or curb its expanded missile program.
President Joe Biden has pledged to rejoin the nuclear deal if Tehran falls back into full compliance with the deal. But his administration is under pressure from US politicians, Israel and Washington’s Arab partners to take a tough stance on Iran’s support for militias and its missile program.
Raisi has said that domestic policy would be his priority. He faces the daunting task of reviving an economy crippled by sanctions and the coronavirus pandemic, ongoing social pressures and a deep sense of disenchantment with the theocratic system among many Iranians.
The schisms in society were underlined by the rise.
Iranian media reported that conservatives voted in droves. But Iranians seeking reforms have registered their disillusionment with the theocratic system by staying home, in what pro-democracy activists described as an act of civil disobedience.
Low turnout would undermine the legitimacy of the people Iran’s leaders are trying to claim in elections at a time when the gap between the regime’s ideology and policies and the ambitions of the youthful population is widening.
Conservative analysts said Raisi would likely be closer to Khamenei’s thinking than Rouhani, who wanted to use the nuclear deal to reconnect with the West before Trump imposed his “maximum pressure” campaign.
Unlike his predecessor, Raisi will not try to diminish the role of the powerful Revolutionary Guard, which dominates overseas military operations and controls a vast economic empire at home.
“Raisi’s background in the judiciary tells us that he is obedient to those above him, but very strict with those below him,” said a reformist politician.
“Two good years in the judiciary is like a rosy betrothal. From now on it’s like after marriage that comes with all the realities and disappointments.
Raisi has made few comments on foreign policy and has said his focus will be on boosting Iran’s industrial production and easing economic pressure on Iranians.
Conservatives hope he will bring unity to the ruling system after Rouhani’s last term in office was blighted by bitter internal clashes. Trump’s hostility to Iran encouraged hardliners to blame the centrist government and its reformist supporters for trusting the US.
But reformers worry that the hardliners’ victory will exacerbate the country’s problems and diminish any lingering hopes for gradual reform.
Reformists must prepare for a difficult political era. . . and not to succumb to this result,” said Abbas Abdi, a reformist commentator.