Who is Ebrahim Raisi? Die-hard judge set to win 2021 Iranian presidential election

Iranian chief justice Ebrahim Raisi was due to win the country’s presidential election on Saturday morning, after the remaining candidates in the race conceded, including his politically moderate main challenger.

Many Iranians feel sidelined by Iran’s authoritarian religious establishment. Millions of people boycotted the elections. The country’s election watchdog, the Guardian Council, disqualified nearly all non-conservative candidates ahead of the vote, narrowing choice among moderates and reformists while deepening the apathy of potential voters.

Mr Raisi appears poised to take over as Iran and the United States negotiate terms to revive the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal, which the Trump administration broke in 2018 before reimposing tough economic sanctions . Iran’s foreign policy, especially its relationship with Washington, is determined by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, but the country’s president can set the tone with the nation’s friends and adversaries.

The polls leading up to the vote showed Ebrahim Raisi far ahead of his rivals.


Photo:

wana news agency / Reuters

Who is Ebrahim Raisi?

Mr Raisi, a conservative judge, was the favorite before the vote. The 60-year-old clergyman lacks political experience but has a long career in the justice system, earning him a reputation as a hard-line supporter with little patience for political dissent.

With around 90% of the votes counted, the Home Office said Mr Raisi received 17.8 million votes, or around 62% of the votes cast. Final results were expected later on Saturday. Mr. Raisi lost the last elections to Mr. Rouhani in 2017, before being appointed head of Iranian justice two years later.

A consensual candidate for Iranian hardliners, Mr. Raisi has close ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guards and a decades-long relationship with Mr. Khamenei. He is known for his role on a 1988 commission that sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death. Mr. Raisi has also presided over mass imprisonments of journalists, political activists and dual nationality, including Americans.

Mr Raisi provided few details on his political program, whether on the economy, domestic policy or foreign affairs. Although he is not opposed to the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal with world powers, his administration is expected to pivot Iran’s foreign policy towards Russia and China to the detriment of diplomacy with the West, a position that the supreme leader has long favored.

Abdolnaser Hemmati has sought to convince voters that he is the best-equipped candidate to improve Iran’s economy.


Photo:

wana news agency / Reuters

Who is Abdolnaser Hemmati?

The only non-conservative candidate in the race, Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former banker and insurance regulator, also has limited political experience. But the 64-year-old is closely associated with the administration of Mr. Rouhani, who in 2018 appointed him first ambassador to China, then head of the central bank.

Mr. Hemmati had marked the middle ground in Iranian politics, posing as a pro-reform moderate who seeks to improve Iran’s foreign relations, including with the West, and grant the Iranians more freedoms. social and political.

After chairing the central bank at a time when Iran was going through a severe economic crisis, but did not completely collapse under US sanctions, Mr. Hemmati said he was the only candidate with the insight and experience needed to repair Iran’s struggling economy.

To force a second round, Mr. Hemmati had to convince millions of disillusioned Iranians to move to prevent his outright opponent from winning 50% of the vote.

Mr. Hemmati got around 8% of the vote, according to preliminary results. He congratulated Mr. Raisi on his victory on Instagram, saying: “I hope your new administration will be a source of pride for the Islamic Republic of Iran.”

What was the participation?

Iran’s interior ministry said on Saturday morning that 28.6 million voters participated in the elections, which equates to a historically low turnout of 48%. Polls ahead of Friday’s vote had predicted an even lower turnout, but on election day, many voters arrived late at polling stations, prompting authorities to extend voting hours until 2 hours of the morning. The last presidential election in 2017 recorded a turnout of 73%.

Iran’s clergy-led establishment has traditionally touted high voter turnout as proof of its popularity, but this year the spokesperson for the election watchdog said a potential low turnout would not hurt the election. legitimacy of the system. A high turnout has historically increased the chances of non-conservative candidates, as reformists are more likely to stay at home to protest the political establishment and its restrictions on the electoral process.

Mr Khamenei called on the Iranians to vote to strengthen the system when he voted early on Friday. “Every vote counts,” the Supreme Leader said in televised remarks. “Today belongs to the people. Going to the polls and voting helps build the future.

Revolutionary Guard veteran Mohsen Rezaei has become a regular in Iran’s presidential elections.


Photo:

Morteza Fkharinazhad / Associated press

Who else was on the ballot?

Mohsen Rezaei, a former Revolutionary Guard commander known for his inflammatory remarks against Iran’s rivals in the region, has run for the presidency for the fourth time. He has been wanted by Interpol since 2007 for his alleged involvement in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish cultural center in Buenos Aires.

Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi is a lawmaker and former member and spokesperson for the far-right Islamic Revolution Stability Front party, which supports Mr. Raisi’s candidacy. Mr. Ghazizadeh-Hashemi has a limited public profile and polls in single digits.

What are the main challenges of this election?

For most Iranians, the main concern is economic hardship. US sanctions imposed since 2018 have exacerbated an already severe economic crisis. Inflation and unemployment are rampant and the local currency, the rial, has fallen in value, hitting local households. Many Iranians have said they will either vote for the candidate with the best solution to the economic crisis or refuse to vote because no candidate has a convincing answer.

Another major problem is foreign relations and national security. The vote came amid heightened regional tensions, especially with Israel, which Tehran accuses of carrying out attacks on its nuclear facilities and a high-profile assassination of a high-profile nuclear scientist last year. Israel declined to comment on the allegations.

Meanwhile, Iran and the United States are currently trying to agree on terms via indirect talks in Vienna to save the 2015 nuclear deal. Many Iranians had hoped the deal would bring some level of peace. economic prosperity and international business opportunities.

Iranians concerned about the state of human rights in the country also fear that a victory for Mr. Raisi will worsen conditions for dissidents and political activists and further hamper freedom of expression.

How has Iran been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic?

Iran was the first country in the Middle East to be hit hard by the pandemic. The official number of infections has exceeded three million in a population of around 83 million, causing nearly 83,000 deaths. Covid-19 has also contributed to Iran’s economic slump, pushing more families into poverty.

Iran has so far vaccinated some 4.5 million people, or about 5% of the population, with a single dose.

The pandemic also limited the size of electoral rallies, although some violated health protocols. This prompted Iran’s interior ministry to increase the number of voting booths for Friday’s vote across the country. Ballots were placed in outdoor spaces where possible.

What does the election mean for US-Iranian relations?

Iran’s foreign policy is determined by Mr. Khamenei and the Supreme National Security Council, not the government.

However, the president can set the tone for Iran’s international relations and help influence the Supreme Leader. He sits on the Supreme National Security Council, of which he also appoints certain members. Individual members of a government can also establish good working relationships with foreign officials, as was the case with outgoing Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and then Secretary of State John Kerry.

While Mr. Hemmati said he would work to improve Iran’s diplomatic and trade relations with other countries, including the United States, Mr. Raisi should look more to China and Russia, to the detriment improving relations with Washington.

Following news that the United States is prepared to resume nuclear talks with Iran in the coming weeks, WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib explains a tactic that could revive diplomacy between the two countries. Photographic illustration: Laura Kammermann

What are the prospects for the Iran nuclear deal?

All matters of national security are also determined by the Supreme Leader, who endorsed the Rouhani government’s negotiations with six world powers that led to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Both Mr Raisi and Mr Hemmati have said they support the deal, and a change in presidency should not change Tehran’s position in the ongoing talks in Vienna, where Iranian and US negotiators are in the process of negotiating. negotiate a deal that brings Washington back to the deal. in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

Longer term, a Raisi presidency is likely to pose challenges to Western diplomacy and could complicate President Biden’s goal of negotiating a broader and more comprehensive security deal with Iran. US wants to limit Iran’s conventional missile arsenal and seeks to reduce the footprint of Iranian-backed militias across the Middle East, both of whom threaten Israel and, Washington says, are stirring up unrest In the region. Iran has so far refused to discuss these issues with the United States.

Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at [email protected]

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