Moderate leader takes narrow lead in Iran’s presidential runoff

Moderate leader takes narrow lead in Iran’s presidential runoff
Moderate leader takes narrow lead in Iran’s presidential runoff

The crucial second round of the presidential election in Iran ended with the two candidates neck and neck, albeit with a slight lead in favour of moderate candidate Massoud Pezeshkian who campaigned against the compulsory wearing of the veil, a popular demand among the population of the theocracy. His rival is the hardline conservative Saeed Jalili.

Election observer Mohsen Eslami said Pezeshkian had 6,939,955 votes, followed by Jalili with 6,359,099, with 13,550,280 votes counted at 29,175 polling stations.

The runoff comes after no candidate won a majority in the first round of voting on June 28, which saw a record-low voter turnout of 40%. The first official results of the vote count put Dr. Pezeshkian slightly ahead of his rival. It was not clear at press time whether that lead had been consolidated.

The election was called after Iran’s previous president, Ebrahim Raisi, died in a helicopter crash in May, killing seven others, including the foreign minister.

Pezeshkian, a former heart surgeon, is a harsh critic of Iran’s “moral police” and caused a stir after promising an end to Iran’s “isolation” from the world, a classic slogan of the moderate wing of the regime’s politicians. He has also called for “constructive negotiations” with Western powers over the faltering 2015 nuclear deal, in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for relief from Western sanctions.

Masoud Pezeshkian, Iran’s former health minister, has a slight lead in Iran’s runoff vote count

His rival, Saeed Jalili, is in favour of the status quo. A former nuclear negotiator, he enjoys strong support among Iran’s most religious communities and, of course, in the theocracy’s top brass, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Jalili is known for his hardline anti-Western stance and his opposition to restoring the nuclear deal, which he says crossed Iran’s “red lines.” The deal was agreed by moderate former president Hassan Rouhani in direct talks with then-US President Barack Obama. It involved freezing the nuclear plan in exchange for the return of investments to the oil and gas-producing country. Obama’s successor in the White House, Donald Trump, tore up the deal to unleash a flood of sanctions against Iran that strengthened the hawks currently in power.

Greater presenteeism

Early reports also indicate that there was a higher turnout in Friday’s run-off. In the first round, the turnout was the highest since the establishment of the Islamic revolution in 1979. Some people who did not vote in the first round have been persuaded to vote for Pezeshkian and his team to avoid the hawks’ continuation.

Conservative Saeed Jalili Xinhua

The regime uses the persecution of the wearing of the veil as a tool to keep in line the population, which is distressed by a social and economic crisis with no way out, which questions the very structure of the revolution. A victory for Jalili, it is feared in this sector, would accelerate the confrontation with the outside world and escalate internal repression.

In order to stand, both candidates had to pass a vetting process led by the Guardian Council, made up of 12 clerics and jurists who wield significant power in Iran. That process saw 74 other candidates eliminated from the race, including women.

The Guardian Council has been criticised by human rights groups for disqualifying candidates who are not sufficiently loyal to the regime.

After years of civil unrest, culminating in anti-regime protests that rocked the country in 2022 and 2023, many young and middle-class Iranians distrust the theocratic establishment and have previously refused to vote, demanding a substantive change in the national direction.

With reports from agencies and Clarín

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