Home International Khamenei protégé, sole moderate to battle in Iran’s presidential run-off

Khamenei protégé, sole moderate to battle in Iran’s presidential run-off

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A moderate lawmaker will face Iran supreme leader’s protégé in a run-off presidential election on July 5 after the country’s interior ministry said that no candidate secured enough votes in the first round of voting.

Presidential candidate Masoud Pezeshkian votes at a polling station in a snap presidential election to choose a successor to Ebrahim Raisi following his death in a helicopter crash, in Tehran, Iran June 28, 2024.Picture: Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI – A moderate lawmaker will face Iran supreme leader’s protégé in a run-off presidential election on July 5 after the country’s interior ministry said on Saturday that no candidate secured enough votes in the first round of voting.

Friday’s vote to replace Ebrahim Raisi after his death in a helicopter crash came down to a tight race between a low-profile lawmaker Massoud Pezeshkian, the sole moderate in a field of four candidates, and former Revolutionary Guards member Saeed Jalili.

The interior ministry said neither secured the 50% plus one vote of over 25 million ballots cast required to win outright, with Pezeshkian leading with over 10 million votes ahead of Jalili with over 9.4 million votes.

Power in Iran ultimately lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, so the result will not herald any major policy shift on Iran’s nuclear programme or its support for militia groups across the Middle East.

But the president runs the government day-to-day and can influence the tone of Iran’s policy.

The clerical establishment hoped for a high turnout as it faces a legitimacy crisis fuelled by public discontent over economic hardship and curbs on political and social freedom. However, turnout in Friday’s vote hit a historic low of about 40%, based on interior ministry count released on Saturday.

The election comes at a time of escalating regional tension due to the war between Israel and Iranian allies Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as increased Western pressure on Iran over its fast-advancing nuclear programme.

With Iran’s supreme leader now 85, it is likely that the next president will be closely involved in the process of choosing a successor to Khamenei, who seeks a fiercely loyal president who can ensure a smooth eventual succession to his own position, insiders and analysts say.

Anti-Western views of Jalili, Iran’s former uncompromising nuclear negotiator, offer a contrast to those of Pezeshkian. Analysts said Jalili’s win would signal the possibility of an even more antagonistic turn in the Islamic Republic’s foreign and domestic policy.

But a victory for mild-mannered lawmaker Pezeshkian might help ease tensions with the West, improve chances of economic reform, social liberalisation and political pluralism.

Pezeshkian, faithful to Iran’s theocratic rule, is backed by the reformist faction that has largely been sidelined in Iran in recent years.

“We will respect the hijab law, but there should never be any intrusive or inhumane behaviour toward women,” Pezeshkian said after casting his vote.

He was referring to the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, in 2022 while in morality police custody for allegedly violating the mandatory Islamic dress code.

The unrest sparked by Amini’s death spiralled into the biggest show of opposition to Iran’s clerical rulers in years.

– REUTERS

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