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Wednesday, July 17, 2024

IRAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: Run-off imminent as hardliner Saeed Jalili squares up against reformist Masoud Pezeshkian 

IRAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION: Run-off imminent as hardliner Saeed Jalili squares up against reformist Masoud Pezeshkian 

Early results in Iran’s presidential election show reformist Masoud Pezeshkian and hardliner Saeed Jalili are in a close race.

This means that the country was headed to a run-off vote next week.

With about 19 million ballots counted, Mr Pezeshkian, a former health minister, garnered around 43.5 per cent of the vote.

Mr Jalili, a former negotiator in nuclear talks with Western powers, followed on his heels with 37.7 per cent.

The head of the electoral authority said on state television on Saturday that parliamentary speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf was in third place with around 14 per cent of the vote.

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The fourth candidate, cleric Mostafa Pourmohammadi, has received less than one per cent of the vote.

As none of the candidates secures an absolute majority, a run-off vote will be held on July 5.

The runoff was in part the result of low voter turnout and a field of three main candidates, two of whom competed for the conservative vote. Iranian law requires a winner to receive more than 50 percent of all votes cast.

The majority of Iranians, 60 percent, according to the interior ministry, did not vote on Friday, in what analysts and aides to the candidates said was largely an act of protest against the government for ignoring their demands for meaningful change.

A prominent Iranian economist, Siamak Ghassemi, said on social media that the voters were sending a clear message. “In one of the most competitive presidential elections, where reformists and conservatives came to the field with all their might, a 60 percent majority of Iranians are through with reformist and conservatives.”

The campaign, which initially included six candidates — five conservatives and one reformist — was notable for how candidly those issues were discussed and a public willingness to attack the status quo. In speeches, televised debates and round-table discussions, the candidates criticized government policies and ridiculed rosy official assessments of Iran’s economic prospects as harmful delusions.

In the official results announced on Saturday, Dr. Pezeshkian led with 10.4 million votes (42.4 percent), followed by Mr. Jalili at 9.4 million (38.6 percent). A third conservative candidate,  Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, the current speaker of Parliament and former mayor of Tehran, was a distant third at 3.3 million (13.8 percent).

It remains unclear whether a runoff between two candidates representing different ends of the political spectrum will inspire more voters to come out, when large numbers of Iranians see the candidates as part of a system they want to reject wholesale.

“This is going to be a very difficult and challenging week,” Mohammad Mobin, an analyst in Tehran who worked on the campaign of Dr. Pezeshkian, said on Saturday. “To get voters out we have to be strategic.”  He added, speaking about the conservatives, “People think there is no difference between us and them.”

Simple math would seem to indicate that Mr. Jalili would surpass 50 percent if he picked up Mr. Ghailibaf’s votes. But in earlier polling, many of those voting for Mr. Ghalibaf said they would not support Mr. Jalili. And Dr. Pezeshkian might pick up votes from those dreading the prospect of a Jalili presidency.

Despite the critical rhetoric of the campaign, the candidates were all members of the Iranian political establishment, approved to run by a committee of Islamic clerics and jurists. All but one, Dr. Pezeshkian, were considered conservatives close to the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mr. Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator, is likely the candidate closest to Mr. Khamenei. He leads the ultra-right-wing Paydari party and represents the country’s most hard-line ideological views when it comes to domestic and foreign policy. Mr. Jalili has said he does not believe Iran needs to negotiate with the United States for economic success.

Dr. Pezeshkian is a cardiac surgeon and veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who served in Parliament and as Iran’s health minister. After his wife died in a car accident, he raised his other children as a single father and never remarried. This and his identity as an Azeri, one of Iran’s ethnic minorities, has endeared him to many voters.

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