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Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential elections

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Ebrahim Raisi, who served as Iran’s top judge before running for president, holds deeply conservative views on many social issues including the role of women in public life. AFP

Ultraconservative cleric Raisi wins Iran presidential elections

Ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi was declared the winner on June 19 of Iran’s presidential election, a widely anticipated result after many political heavyweights were barred from running.

The president-elect won just shy of 62 per cent of the vote in June 18’s election, according to official figures, on a turnout of 48.8 per cent, a record low for a presidential poll in the Islamic republic.

Raisi, 60, is set to take over at a critical time, as Iran seeks to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a deep economic crisis.

“God willing, we will do our best so that the hope for the future now alive in people’s hearts grows further,” said Raisi, vowing to strengthen public trust in the government for a “bright and pleasant life together”.

The head of the Iranian judiciary, whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam’s Prophet Mohammed, Raisi is seen as close to the 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate political power in Iran.

Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls including 40 women had been winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.

Three of the vetted candidates dropped out two days before June 18’s vote.

Khamenei hailed the election saying that “the great winner … is the Iranian nation because it has risen up once again in the face of the propaganda of the enemy’s mercenary media”.

On election day, pictures of often flag-waving voters dominated state TV coverage, but away from the polling stations some voiced anger at what they saw as a stage-managed election.

“Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected,” said Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. “They organise the elections for the media.”

Enthusiasm was dampened further by spiralling inflation and job losses, and the Covid pandemic that has killed more than 80,000 Iranians by the official count.

Among those who queued to vote at schools, mosques and community centres, many hailed Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of flats for low-income families.

Raisi, who holds deeply conservative views on many social issues including the role of women in public life, has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.

To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to mass executions of political prisoners in 1988. The US government has sanctioned him over the killings, in which Raisi has denied involvement.

Asked in 2018 and again last year about the executions, Raisi denied playing a role, even as he lauded an order he said was handed down by the Islamic republic’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to proceed with the purge.

Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in areas from industrial policy to foreign affairs.

Outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.

But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-president Donald Trump withdrew the US from the accord and launched a “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.

Analysts for think-thank the Eurasia Group said Raisi’s election win would likely not derail ongoing talks in Vienna to salvage the nuclear deal.

But they warned that “his hardline, anti-Western views are a sharp break from the more moderate stances of Rouhani and will have a significant impact on Tehran’s relationship with the outside world”.

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