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The vote ended at 2am on Saturday after the government extended the vote to accommodate so-called “scrum” at several polling stations across the country. Paper ballots put in large plastic boxes were to be counted by hand all night, and the authorities did not expect the first results and voter turnouts until Saturday morning at the earliest.
“My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of those voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the skills to do so,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who only gave her first name while he was after the Had escaped polling stations, hurried to a taxi on Haft-e-Tir Square: “I have no candidate here.”
Iranian state television tried to downplay voter turnout, citing the surrounding Arab sheikdoms in the Gulf, ruled by hereditary leaders, and lower participation in Western democracies. After a day of increased efforts by officials to get the vote, state television aired scenes of overcrowded voting booths in several provinces overnight to depict a last-minute rush for the polls.
But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the Shah, the Iranian theocracy has cited turnout as a sign of their legitimacy, starting with their first referendum which received 98.2% support, which simply asked whether the people wanted an Islamic Republic or not .
The disqualifications affected reformists and those who support Rouhani, whose governments both achieved the 2015 nuclear deal with the world powers and dissolved it three years later when then-President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the deal. Former hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was also blocked from running, said on social media that he would boycott the vote.
Voter apathy was also fueled by the shattered state of the economy and muted campaigns amid months of rising coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped ballot boxes with disinfectant.
If elected, Raisi would be the first incumbent Iranian president to be sanctioned by the US government before taking office for his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988 and his time as head of the internationally criticized judiciary of Iran – one of those best executioner in the world.
It would also give hardliners across the government firm control as negotiations in Vienna continue to seek to salvage a ragged deal designed to limit Iran’s nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at the highest levels ever, though it’s still short of gun grades. Tensions remain high with both the US and Israel, who are believed to have carried out a series of attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities and murdered the scientist who created his military nuclear program decades earlier.
Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and could thus cite one of the most important moments for the country in decades – the death of 82-year-old Khamenei. There is already speculation that Raisi, along with Khamenei’s son Mojtaba, could be a contender for the position.
Khamenei cast the first vote from Tehran, calling on the public to “demonstrate, vote and vote”.
Raisi, who wore a black turban, which in Shiite tradition identified him as a direct descendant of the Islamic prophet Mohammed, chose from a mosque in southern Tehran. The cleric later admitted in comment that some may be “so upset that they do not want to vote”.
“I ask all the lovable youth and all Iranian men and women who speak any accent or language from any region and with any political stance to go and cast their vote,” said Raisi.
But few seemed to answer the call. In Iran, a nation of over 80 million people, there are more than 59 million eligible voters. However, the Iranian state student polling station estimates that the turnout will be only 44%, which would be the lowest since the revolution. Officials did not release voter turnout numbers on Friday, although the results could come on Saturday.
Fears of low voter turnout may warn Iran against being an Islamic Republic – a government with an elected civil leadership overseen by a top leader among its Shiite clergy – towards a country ruled more strictly by its supreme leader who already say final in all state affairs and oversees his defense and nuclear program.
“That is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformer who tried to transform the theocracy from within during his eight-year term. “How would that agree with a republic or an Islam?”
For his part, Khamenei warned in a speech on Wednesday of “foreign conspiracies” that wanted to suppress voter turnout. A leaflet distributed by hardliners on the streets of Tehran reflected this and bore the picture of the Revolutionary Guard General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone attack in 2020. A polling station was set up next to Soleimani’s grave on Friday.
Some voters seemed to be repeating this call.
“We cannot put our fate in the hands of foreigners and they decide for us and create conditions that are absolutely harmful for us,” said the Tehran voter Shahla Pazouki.
A moderate like Hemmati is also harmed by the public anger directed at Rouhani over the failure of the agreement, despite ongoing talks in Vienna to revive it. Iran’s already ailing economy has since suffered from double-digit inflation and mass unemployment.
“It’s useless,” said Ali Hosseini, a 36-year-old unemployed from south Tehran, of the election. “Anyone who wins the election after a while says they cannot solve the problem of the economy because of the intervention of influential people. Then he forgets his promises and we poor people remain disappointed again. “