Close Khamenei Loyalist Sanctioned by U.S. Set to Win Iran Vote

DUBAI (Reuters) -
Supporters of presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi hold posters of him during an election rally in Tehran, Iran June 16, 2021. (Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS)

Iranians vote on Friday in a race likely to hand the presidency to a judge sanctioned by Washington for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners, a result that would cheer the clerical leadership but stir Western human rights concerns.

Hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, an ally and protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is favourite to succeed the pragmatist incumbent Hassan Rouhani, forbidden under the constitution from serving a third four-year term.

Raisi says that while the Islamic Republic needs no help from foreigners, he does back talks with world powers aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal, a development that would bring an easing of Western sanctions that have crushed Iran’s economy.

But the election of an Iranian head of government currently under U.S. sanctions could alarm Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts of Iranian politics said, especially given President Joe Biden’s sharpened focus on human rights globally.

“Raisi being elected will justify and legitimize America’s human rights sanctions against the Islamic Republic,” said Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born expert on Iran at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel.

Khamenei on Wednesday urged Iranians to turn out and vote, but record numbers of people are expected to boycott the polls due to anger over worsening economic hardship and frustration with hardline rule.

Another potential deterrent for voters is a hardline vetting body’s disqualification of hundreds of would-be candidates, including many advocating more political and personal freedoms.

For an overwhelmingly young population chafing at political restrictions, the lack of choice at the ballot box means a vote serves little purpose, analysts of Iranian politics say.