DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iran’s hard-line judiciary chief won a landslide victory Saturday in the country’s presidential election, a vote that both propelled the supreme leader’s protege into Tehran’s highest civilian position and saw the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history.
The election of Ebrahim Raisi, already sanctioned by the U.S. in part over his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, became more of a coronation after his strongest competition found themselves disqualified from running.
That sparked calls for a boycott and many apparently did stay home — out of over 59 million eligible voters, only 28.9 million voted. Of those voting, some 3.7 million people either accidentally or intentionally voided their ballots, far beyond the amount seen in previous elections and suggesting some wanted none of the four candidates.
Iranian state television immediately blamed challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and U.S. sanctions for the low participation. But the low turnout and voided ballots suggested a wider unhappiness with the tightly controlled election, as activists criticized Raisi’s ascension.
“That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance and torture is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran,” Amnesty International’s Secretary-General Agnes Callamard said.
In official results, Raisi won 17.9 million votes overall, nearly 62% of the total 28.9 million cast. Had the voided ballots gone to a candidate, that person would have come in second place. Following Raisi was former hard-line Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei with 3.4 million votes.
Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, a moderate viewed as a stand-in for outgoing President Hassan Rouhani in the election, came in third with 2.4 million votes. Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi was last with just under 1 million.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, who gave the results, did not explain the high number of voided ballots. Elections in 2017 and 2012 saw some 1.2 million voided ballots apiece. Iran does not allow international election observers to monitor its polls.
While Iran does not have mandatory voting, those casting ballots do receive stamps showing they voted on their birth certificates. Some worry that could affect their ability to apply for jobs and scholarships, or to hold onto their positions in the government or the security forces.
Hemmati, like the three other candidates, conceded even before the results were released.
“I hope your administration provides causes for pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran, improves the economy and life with comfort and welfare for the great nation of Iran,” he wrote on Instagram.
Abroad, Syrian President Bashar Assad immediately congratulated Raisi’s win. Iran has been instrumental in seeing Assad hold onto the presidency amid his…