Iran votes in presidential election amid low turnout

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Iran’s presidential election on Friday saw a notably low turnout, with early estimates indicating that only about 25% of eligible voters participated. This is a significant drop from the 70% turnout seen in previous elections and falls short of the 50% goal set by the ruling clerics, who view voter participation as a measure of their legitimacy.

Years of economic hardship and strict social restrictions have left many Iranians disillusioned with politicians’ unfulfilled promises. For some, abstaining from voting is a way to express their rejection of the government. Reports from Tehran indicated empty polling stations, with some voters defying dress codes, such as Mahdieh, 41, who voted without a hijab. In contrast, polling stations in central and southern Tehran saw longer lines as voting extended into the evening.

The election comes at a critical time, with the new president facing significant challenges, including internal unrest, economic struggles, and regional tensions that have brought Iran close to conflict twice this year. The final results may not be available until tomorrow, but analysts predict no candidate will secure the 50% needed to avoid a runoff.

Pre-election polls by Iranian state television showed a tight race among the top candidates. Conservative candidates Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf and Saeed Jalili each had around 16% support, while reformist candidate Dr. Masoud Pezeshkian led with 23%. If these numbers hold, a runoff between Pezeshkian and one of the conservatives is likely on July 5.

Ghalibaf, a former commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and current speaker of parliament, and Jalili, a hardliner, have refused to withdraw despite a public feud. Of the two, Ghalibaf is seen as more pragmatic. Pezeshkian, leading in the polls but short of the 50% threshold, emphasized his campaign’s focus on addressing the needs of disadvantaged areas.

Another candidate, Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a cleric with a background in intelligence, is expected to receive less than 1% of the vote. Pourmohammadi had warned that low voter turnout would be a significant issue for the Islamic Republic.

Polling began at 8 a.m. local time and extended late into the night to encourage higher turnout. Iran’s leadership, including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had framed the election as a defiance against Iran’s adversaries and a validation of the Islamic Republic’s governance. Khamenei urged citizens to vote as a civic duty, promising that it would bring “dignity and credit” to the country.

However, many Iranians appear to continue the election boycott that began with the last major vote, doubting that significant change can come through the ballot box. Strict candidate vetting by a committee of clerics and jurists, along with government efforts to silence opposition, have contributed to this skepticism.

In the days leading up to the election, young Iranians expressed their discontent. Four psychology students at Tehran University, shopping at the Tajrish Bazaar, voiced their frustration with the country’s situation but had no intention of voting. Sohgand, 19, reflected this sentiment, stating, “We can’t do anything about the situation; we have no hope but ourselves.”

Despite the widespread apathy, some polling stations saw active participation. At Tehran’s Hosseinieh Ershad religious institute, Neema Saberi, 30, expressed support for reformist candidate Pezeshkian, citing his anti-corruption stance and commitment to improving international relations.

Televised debates highlighted the economy as a top concern for voters and candidates, with American sanctions, corruption, and mismanagement being key issues. Analysts argue that addressing Iran’s economic woes requires tackling foreign policy challenges, including the nuclear standoff with the U.S. and regional military involvements.

Vali Nasr, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, suggested that while radical change is unlikely, the election could lead to significant shifts in policy if voices advocating for a different direction gain influence.

In provinces with large ethnic Azeri Turk and Kurdish populations, voter turnout is expected to be higher for Pezeshkian, himself an Azeri Turk. His campaign speeches in Turkish and Kurdish have resonated with these communities, generating regional enthusiasm.

At a rally in Tabriz, Pezeshkian received a hero’s welcome, underscoring the regional support for his candidacy, which activists say is rare for ethnic and religious minorities in Iran.

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