Ebrahim Raisi, the conservative candidate currently serving as the head of Iran’s Judiciary, won Iran’s presidential election with 61.95 percent of the votes in an election that faced a boycott movement that resulted in the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. He becomes Iran’s president as his supporters see him as a salvation to the economic problems they face and his opponents see him as an ultraconservative who is consolidating Iran’s Supreme Leaders’ reign.
A Boycott Movement and a Long Election
The election lasted for 19 hours, from 7 am on June 18th to 2 am on June 19th. Voting hours were extended three times. A boycott movement had asked everyone not to vote in the 13th presidential election. The disqualification of reformist and centrist candidates and extending the voting time to 19 hours, was deemed as a strategy to encourage more Iranians to come to the polls.
Mehdi Mahmoudian, a civil society activist who resides inside Iran, responded to multiple cries by the Raisi camp (and later on other candidates) to extend the voting time. Mahmoudian wrote on twitter:
“The only significant competition that took place today is Mr. Raisi with a turnout of more than 50% and Mr. Raisi with a turnout of less than 50%. Stay at home for a few hours [do not vote]. Do not take these advertising tactics seriously. The goal is only to achieve a participation rate above 50%.”
Raisi faced three competitors in this election as most reformist and centrist candidates were disqualified from running by IRI’s Guardian Council – a non-elected body with vetting power that is an extension of the Iranian Supreme Leader’s oversight over the electoral processes.
The Guardian Council also disqualified former head of the parliament, Ali Larijani, one of the more powerful conservatives that many had hoped will bring a balance of power in the 13th presidential election.
The boycott of the election led to the lowest turnout in the 42-year history of the Islamic Republic. According to the Interior Minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, of over 59 million eligible voters, only 28.9 million voted – that is 48.8% of the eligible population.
The Interior Minister announced Ebrahim Raisi as the winner with 17 million and 900 thousand votes. Mohsen Rezaei, Abdolnasser Hemmati, and Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi were announced second to fourth respectively.
Raisi supporters who voted for him are expecting him to change the state of the Iranian economy and the livelihood of Iranian families for the better – a promise that he repeatedly stated in his campaigns. They also argue that with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader, supporting a conservative in the executive branch, the restoration of the nuclear agreement with the world powers will be achieved with fewer domestic obstacles.
There is also a tendency among his supporters to attribute transcendental status to Raisi as the righteous candidate, similar to a righteous status that the Supreme Leader enjoys among his supporters. Abdollah Ganji, a conservative journalist, and supporter of Raisi wrote on Twitter, “The comparative advantage of Raisi was neither the economy nor foreign policy. The nation voted yes to honesty, purity, sincerity, and the spirit of making an effort for public service. I believe that legitimate socio-political freedoms will be better guaranteed and stabilized during his term than before.”
Invalid Vote Numbers and the Issue of Legitimacy
Of those voting, some 3.7 million people either accidentally or intentionally cast invalid votes – with some posting photos of protest slogans they had written on their ballots to object to this particular election.
The number of invalid votes in this election was more than the two million and 400 thousand votes the reformist candidate Abdolnasser Hemmati received. There has been growing disappointment with the reformist political parties as some Iranian citizens see them complicit with policies that have affected their lives adversely.
The number of invalid votes was also significantly higher than the other twelve presidential elections in Iran.
Mira Ghorbanifar, a journalist based in Iran wrote on Twitter: “the phenomenon (to ponder) in this election is the number of invalid votes.”
Abbas Abdi, a political commentator in Iran, said in a tweet that the invalid votes are so high that they should be subtracted from the overall turnout percentage:
“About 14% of invalid ballots should not be counted towards the overall turnout. In the last 40 years, the average number of invalid voted was about 2 percent. Subtract this 12% from the total turnout, and the participation figure is about 43% and not 49%.”
It is not just the invalid votes and turnout numbers that speak about the state of Iranian politics and the issue of the legitimacy of the government. Ebrahim Raisi’s involvement in the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988 has been the subject of much debate among civil society activists, dissidents, and human rights groups with Amnesty International calling Raisi’s victory “a grim reminder of the crisis of impunity.”
Amnesty’s statement is referring to the fact that Ebrahim Raisi was a member of the “death commission” which carried out the “enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions of several thousand political dissidents” in Iranian prisons in 1988:
“Today’s announcement that Ebrahim Raisi will assume the presidency of Iran, instead of being investigated for crimes under international law, is a grim reminder of the international failure to address a crisis of systematic impunity in Iran”.
The 60 years old Raisi who was in his 20s when involved with the mass execution of political prisoners, has not commented on the “death commission” since coming into the political limelight. He is due for inauguration in 40 days and he has promised “a prosperous, revolutionary and anti-corruption government” in his statement after winning the election.