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Iran says Friday's presidential vote a 'serious' contest

Iran says Friday's presidential vote a 'serious' contest
A supporter holds up a photograph of ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, the favourite to win Friday's Iranian presidential election, at a rally in Tehran on the final day of the campaign - Copyright AFP -
A supporter holds up a photograph of ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, the favourite to win Friday's Iranian presidential election, at a rally in Tehran on the final day of the campaign - Copyright AFP -

On the eve of Iran’s presidential election, expected to hand victory to the ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, the candidate-vetting Guardian Council insisted Thursday that “the political contest is serious”.

“The media and the people have testified that this is a good competition,” said the head of the 12-member council, Abbas Ali Kadkhodaee, a day before almost 60 million voters are asked to head to the ballots.

Three televised debates between the seven candidates, all men, who were approved by the unelected body of jurists and clerics, had shown that “the political competition is serious,” Kadkhodaee told a press conference.

The vote Friday will choose a successor to Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who cannot run again now after serving two consecutive four-year terms, and who leaves office in August.

Turnout is expected to be low in a country where many have been demoralised by years of painful economic crisis that was brought on by a crippling US sanctions regime and worsened by the Covid pandemic.

The election comes as Tehran holds renewed talks with world powers to revive a battered 2015 nuclear deal, which the United States unilaterally withdrew from three years ago under then president Donald Trump.

Ultimate power in Iran lies with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, but the president has significant influence on issues from industrial policy to foreign affairs.

– ‘No political views’ –

Many voters were dismayed however when a field of almost 600 hopefuls for the presidency was reduced to just seven candidates by the Guardian Council.

Among the prominent figures barred from running were former parliament speaker Ali Larijani, who demanded that the council “officially and publicly disclose all the reasons” for his disqualification.

Rouhani later said he had urged greater “competition” in a letter to the supreme leader, who acknowledged that some candidates had been treated “unjustly” as “they and their families were accused of false things”, without giving names.

The field was further reduced Wednesday when three of the seven candidates dropped out, shortly before the election campaign ended at 7:00 am (0230 GMT) Thursday.

The only reformist left in the race against Raisi and two other ultraconservatives is the relatively low-profile central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati. 

Kadkhodai told the press briefing that the candidates were vetted according to “the electoral law” and that “the Guardian Council has no political views”.

Raisi, Iran’s judiciary chief who dresses in a black turban and religious robe, belongs to the ultraconservative camp that most deeply distrusts the United States, labelled the “Great Satan” and the “Global Arrogance” in official rhetoric.

He has been mentioned in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei, who turns 82 in July.

Khamenei also served as president when he took over in 1989 upon the death of the Islamic republic’s founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomenei.

The supreme leader, in a televised speech on Wednesday, urged voters to turn out in droves to elect “a powerful president”, warning that “the Satanic power centres of the world” are trying to undermine the ballot.

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With 2,400 staff representing 100 different nationalities, AFP covers the world as a leading global news agency. AFP provides fast, comprehensive and verified coverage of the issues affecting our daily lives.

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