Ebrahim Raisi, hard-line judiciary chief, poised to win Iran’s presidential election after rivals concede, state media reports
By Kareem Fahim and Sarah Dadouch,
Ali Mohammadi Bloomberg
Ebrahim Raisi, an ultraconservative cleric who has opposed engagement with the United States, appeared poised to win Iran’s presidential election early Saturday after the remaining candidates in the race congratulated him on his victory, according to Iranian state media.
Official results were expected to be released later on Saturday. Raisi’s win, if confirmed, solidified control by Iran’s hard-liners over all of the country’s ruling institutions, including the executive branch.
Raisi, 60, a fixture of Iran’s conservative establishment and an acolyte of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, currently serves as chief of the judiciary. Human rights groups have linked Raisi to episodes of repression over decades and said he played a central role in mass killings of dissidents in the late 1980s.
He will replace President Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate whose government signed the 2015 nuclear accord with the U.S. and other world powers, and later, was subjected to the Trump administration’s “maximum pressure campaign” aimed at crippling Iran’s economy using sanctions and other measures. Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear accord in 2018.
While Raisi has expressed a willingness to revive the deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, in line with Khamenei’s wishes, his presidency seemed certain to mark a radical departure from the Rouhani era, with little prospect for liberalizing domestic reforms or any broadening of Tehran’s relationship with the West, analysts said.
Polls in the days leading up to the election predicted low turnout amid voter fatigue and calls to boycott the election. The balloting was held as Iran struggles to end the coronavirus pandemic after suffering one of the deadliest outbreaks in the world.
The result was no surprise. Iran’s Guardian Council, which approves candidates seeking office, disqualified several prominent politicians who might have challenged Raisi. Critics called it an unusually brazen effort by the clerical establishment to rig the election results.
Half of the council’s members are clerics appointed by the supreme leader, and the other half are jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary. Raisi nominated three of the council’s members.
Others allowed to compete in the election included Mohsen Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guard Corps commander who had previously run for president; Saeed Jalili, a hard-liner and a former nuclear negotiator; Abdolnaser Hemmati, the centrist governor of Iran’s Central Bank and Mohsen Mehralizadeh, a reformist politicians and former governor of Isfahan province.
In a short campaign season, the candidates tried to energize an electorate frustrated by the dismal state of Iran’s economy, government mismanagement, widening repression and the layers of sanctions imposed by Trump. Raisi, for his part, remained vague about his plans to repair the country and generally sought to avoid controversy.
During debates and other appearances, Raisi “was very cautious not to use the radical rhetoric that hard-liners are using,” while at the same time trying to convince moderate voters that conservatives would not necessarily be part of his administration, said Ali Reza Eshraghi, a visiting scholar at the Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies at the University of North Carolina.
Raisi’s reticence, along with his lack of charisma, had rendered the candidate all the more inscrutable. “No one knows what he is going to do,” Eshraghi said.
Two days before the election, Hemmati, the former central bank governor, pleaded with potential voters in an online discussion not to boycott the election, saying it would cede political ground to Iran’s hard-liners. “Why should we surrender all the power in our country to one camp?” he said.
Early Saturday, in an Instagram post, he congratulated Raisi. “The decent and proud people of Iran righteously expect a life full of hope, peace and welfare. I hope your government will bring about honor together with better welfare and peace for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote.