More than 59 million Iranians are called to the polls this Friday to vote for a new president. The elections will be marked by the pandemic, the severe economic crisis and the inherent tensions in the region. Polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. to midnight, with 66,800 polling stations expected to open across the country.
The elections will be marked by a low turnout, or so the polls indicate, as a result of political disillusionment and the country's serious economic problems. After the record abstention rate (57%) in the 2020 parliamentary elections, a new upsurge in abstention could be detrimental to the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic's elections.
In the end, out of an initial list of 592 registered candidates, only seven made it through the filter of the powerful Guardian Council, which rejected the candidacy of leading figures such as former parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, current first vice president Eshaq Yahanguiri, one of the few remaining reformists, and ultraconservative former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose candidacy was also rejected and who will not vote in the elections.
But in the last few days before polling stations opened, three other candidates have decided to withdraw from the race, leaving the election down to four presidential candidates. The favourite is the ultra-conservative cleric and current head of the judiciary, Ebrahim Raisi, who, according to a poll published by Press TV, would have 57.3% of the vote. His rivals are Mohsen Rezai, current secretary of the Discernment Council and former commander of the Revolutionary Guards; and the conservative first deputy speaker of parliament, Amirhosein Qazizadeh Hashemi and Abdolnaser Hemati, former governor of the Central Bank of Iran and the only moderate.
The last candidate to withdraw, Saeed Jalili, has encouraged the population to vote for his "comrade" Ebrahim Raisi. Jalili announced that he was withdrawing from the 18 July presidential election, becoming the third candidate to drop out of the race and the second to do so in support of Raisi. Earlier, reformist candidate Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh and principlist Alireza Zakani dropped out of the presidential race.
Low turnout is one of the main problems facing Iran, as it may call into question the legitimacy of the elections. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei himself has urged people to go out and vote in what he called a "decisive" day. In his address to the nation, Khamenei said that a high turnout in the elections meant that the regime had popular support, which would have a "unique impact" on Iran's power internationally, but that a low turnout in the elections would mean "increased pressure on Iran from the country's enemies".
Iranian President Hasan Rohani has also encouraged the population to participate in the elections in order to achieve a massive turnout and thus "strengthen the system" and improve the situation in the country: "if there is a problem, the solution is to go to the polls", he stressed.
The Iranian elections come at a difficult time for a country hit by an economic crisis aggravated by the pandemic and economic sanctions imposed by the United States. The elections will determine the successor to the current president, Hasan Rohani, who is barred by the country's constitution from running for a third consecutive term. For the reformists and moderates who have governed with Rohani since 2013, the solution to the country's problems lies in the talks being held in Vienna to try to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
The return to the nuclear pact is one of the key issues in the Iranian presidential elections, the Persian country has already stated that its nuclear policy will not change after the elections, but the Western powers do not trust it and fear that the arrival of a conservative in power will hinder negotiations to reinstate the 2015 nuclear agreement. The candidate with the most support assured during the election campaign that his administration will strive "to lift sanctions".