Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts the first vote in Iran, marking the opening of the country’s presidential election.
After casting his vote, Khamenei said, “Every vote counts… Come and vote and choose your president… This is important for the future of your country.” Low turnout will increase the pressure of enemies.
Raisi’s expected victory will be a turning point for Iran. The next government will face the economic crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, calling for constitutional reform and mounting questions about the succession plans of 81-year-old Khamenei, who is the final arbiter of all Iranian affairs. Tehran is currently locked in talks with the United States about how to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
Raisi wrote in a tweet, “People are right to be upset and maybe some are upset by the current situation, but I am asking all Iranian people to come to the election to solve problems.”
“I hope people will feel the change soon… I consider myself a servant to all the people of Iran,” Raisi also said according to Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency.
a largely conservative vote
But many in Iran have also expressed dismay at what they see as a heavy-handed election. Despite public calls for reforms, some object to what is being perceived as an attempt by Iran’s clerical rulers to further consolidate their power.
A 22-year-old man said, “I will not vote. I don’t think it is very effective for the situation in the country.” “It’s possible that we already know what’s about to happen.” All Iranians who criticized the election in an interview with CNN asked not to be named for security reasons.
The young man was sitting on a bench in Tehran’s bustling Valiasar Square. Above the scene is a giant billboard depicting people from different parts of Iranian society, their fingers covered with purple ink indicating that they voted.
The poster reads, “We stand in the voting queue for Iran.” At street level, it’s a different story.
Most national polls show that Iran’s presidential election may see a turnout of less than 50% for the first time since the establishment of the Islamic Republic in 1979. Fear in the government over voter apathy prompts Khamenei to make a last-minute petition for voters. On Thursday, he warned that poor voting would play into the hands of Iran’s “enemies” and destabilize the country.
“The enemy wants to undermine people’s participation in elections to weaken Iran,” Khamenei said in a televised speech.
“If there is less participation and if the country weakens, they can cause insecurity in the country,” the leader said.
“The solution is to increase people’s participation and show the enemy that people are participating.”
Earlier, Khamenei warned that empty votes would be considered a “sin”.
an uncompetitive election
In the past few days, three candidates have dropped out of the race, two of them conservatives who are apparently trying to boost Raisi’s chances further. Prominent reformist and centrist politicians were disqualified from running last month.
“I am not going to vote because I believe there is no suitable person to choose as a candidate,” said a 32-year-old student.
Another youth said, “Maybe I would have voted if there were different candidates.”
“The government itself has already chosen [the president]. It’s the truth,” said a disgruntled middle-aged man. “We’re in a bad position. We have to choose only what they have chosen for us.”
“And we know him. We know him,” he said, referring to Raisi, who has for decades played a leading role in prosecuting political prisoners in Iran.
Raisi never commented on these allegations, but it is widely believed that he rarely leaves Iran hanging for fear of retaliation or international justice.
“After entering the election I see that the percentage of people who want to participate is increasing,” Hemmati said in an interview with CNN. “The message of the people is that they have no power and I am coming to say that I can be their power.”
Meanwhile, at Raisi’s campaign headquarters in Tehran, a looping video of the soft-spoken cleric interacting with youth is projected onto the door of a garage. A handful of conservative youth shuttles in and out of the building.
Raisi’s campaign manager, Hussein Bahman Abadi, rebuked the Western world for “lying” about the vote.
“Who says people won’t participate? People will participate,” Abadi told CNN. “This is the slogan of foreign media suggesting that people are not participating.”
But in the days before the election, election posters were sparse, campaign centers largely empty and the mood was gloomy. On Friday, activists on social media called on people to stay in their homes. A young man told us that he intended to play video games on Election Day.
One woman said, “I don’t care about the elections. Who’s there to look after us? Rouhani… Khamenei? They’re driving us from person to person like a basketball.” Her voice was full of emotion, she spoke of her financial troubles, including her inability to provide necessary medicine for her ailing son.
“The worst thing that could happen to me because of my objections is that I was arrested and killed,” she said. “But it’s better than watching my son die of the disease.”