Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran
's hard-line judiciary chief won the country's presidential election by a landslide Saturday, elevating the supreme leader's protege to the highest civilian position in the Islamic Republic's history
Initial results showed that Ebrahim Raisi
received 17.8 million votes
, far outnumbering the race's lone moderate candidate; however, Raisi dominated the election only after a panel overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei disqualified his main rival.
His candidacy, and the sense that the election was more of a coronation for him, sparked widespread apathy among eligible voters
in the Islamic Republic, which has held up turnout as a sign of support for the theocracy since its 1979 Islamic Revolution, prompting some, including former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to call for a boycott.
According to preliminary results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei received 3.3 million votes, while moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati received 2.4 million votes, according to Jamal Orf, head of Iran's Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race's fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, received around 1 million votes, according to Orf.
Early Saturday, Hemmati congratulated Raisi on Instagram
“I hope your administration gives the Islamic Republic of Iran reasons to be proud, improves the economy
and life for the great nation of Iran, and provides comfort and welfare,” he wrote.
Rezaei thanked Khamenei and the Iranian people
for participating in the election on Twitter
“God willing, my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi’s decisive election guarantees the establishment of a strong and popular government to solve the country’s problems,” Rezaei wrote.
The quick concessions, while not unusual in previous Iranian elections
, signaled what semiofficial news
agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for hours: that the carefully controlled vote had been a landslide victory for Raisi despite the boycott calls.
As night fell Friday, turnout appeared to be far lower than in Iran's previous presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer
with a young boy while most of its workers napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile phones as state television
blared beside them, offering only tight shots of locations around the country.
Balloting ended at 2 a.m. Saturday, after the government extended voting
to accommodate “crowding” at several polling places across the country. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted by hand throughout the night, and officials said they expected preliminary results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.
“My vote will not change anything in this election; the number of people voting for Raisi is huge, and Hemmati lacks the necessary skills,” said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while rushing to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls.
After a day of amplifying officials’ efforts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting booths in several provinces overnight, attempting to portray a last-minute rush to the polls.
However, since the 1979 revolution that deposed the shah, Iran's theocracy has cited voter turnout as proof of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum, which received 98.2% support and simply asked whether people wanted an Islamic Republic.
The disqualifications harmed reformists and supporters of Rouhani, whose administration negotiated a nuclear deal
with world powers in 2015 and saw it fall apart three years later with then-President Donald Trump
's unilateral withdrawal from the agreement.
Voter apathy has also been fueled by the economy's devastation and subdued campaigning in the midst of months of surging coronavirus
cases; poll workers wore gloves and masks
, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.
If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the US government even before taking office, for his role in the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners, as well as his time as the head of Iran's internationally criticized judiciary — one of the world's top executioners.
It would also solidify hardliners' control of the government at a time when negotiations in Vienna are attempting to save a shattered deal meant to limit Iran's nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its highest levels ever, though it still falls short of weapons-grade levels. Tensions remain high with both the US and Israel
, which is believed to have carried out a series of oblique attacks on Iran.
Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and will thus be in charge during what could be one of the most critical times for the country in decades — the death
of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Rumors have circulated that Raisi, along with Khamenei's son, Mojtaba, may be contenders for the position.