‘Champion of the poor’ Ebrahim Raisi wins Iran presidential vote

Wins 62 percent of votes as all rivals concede defeat

By: AFP      Published: 08:45 AM, 19 Jun, 2021
‘Champion of the poor’ Ebrahim Raisi wins Iran presidential vote
Ebrahim Raisi casting his vote during Friday's presidential election.

Ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi was declared the winner Saturday of Iran's presidential election, a widely anticipated result after many political heavyweights were barred from running.

Raisi won 62 percent of the vote with about 90 percent of ballots counted from Friday's election, poll officials said, without releasing turnout figures, after the three other candidates had conceded defeat.

"I congratulate the people on their choice," said outgoing moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who has served the maximum of two consecutive four-year terms and leaves office in August.

Raisi, 60, is set to take over at a critical time, as Iran seeks to salvage its tattered nuclear deal with major powers and free itself from punishing US sanctions that have driven a sharp economic downturn.

The head of the Iranian judiciary, whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam's Prophet Mohammed, Raisi is seen as close to the 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate political power in Iran.

Friday's voting was extended by two hours past the original midnight deadline amid fears of a low turnout of 50 percent or less. 

Many voters chose to stay away after the field of some 600 hopefuls including 40 women had been winnowed down to seven candidates, all men, excluding an ex-president and a former parliament speaker.

Three of the vetted candidates dropped out of the race two days before Friday's election.

Populist former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, one of those barred from running by the Guardian Council of clerics and jurists, said he would not vote, declaring in a video message that "I do not want to have a part in this sin".

Raisi's victory was confirmed Saturday when he received the congratulations of the incumbent and the three other candidates -- ultraconservatives Mohsen Rezai and Amirhossein Qazizadeh Hashemi and reformist Abdolnasser Hemmati.

- 'Save the people' -

On election day, pictures of often flag-waving voters dominated state TV coverage, but away from the polling stations some voiced anger at what they saw as a stage-managed election aiming to cement ultraconservative control. 

"Whether I vote or not, someone has already been elected," scoffed Tehran shopkeeper Saeed Zareie. "They organise the elections for the media."

Enthusiasm was dampened further by spiralling inflation and job losses, and the Covid pandemic that proved more deadly in Iran than anywhere else in the region, killing more than 80,000 people by the official count.

Among those who queued to vote at schools, mosques and community centres, many said they supported Raisi, who has promised to fight corruption, help the poor and build millions of flats for low-income families. 

A nurse named Sahebiyan said she backed him for his anti-graft credentials and on hopes he would "move the country forward... and save the people from economic, cultural and social deprivation".

Raisi, who holds deeply conservative views on many social issues including the role of women in public life, has been named in Iranian media as a possible successor to Khamenei.

To opposition and human rights groups, his name is linked to the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988. The US government has sanctioned him over the purge, in which Raisi has denied playing a part.

Asked in 2018 and again last year about the executions, Raisi denied playing a role, even as he lauded an order he said was handed down by the Islamic republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to proceed with the purge.

- 'Maximum pressure' -

Ultimate power in Iran, since its 1979 revolution toppled the US-backed monarchy, rests with the supreme leader, but the president wields major influence in areas from industrial policy to foreign affairs.

Rouhani's landmark achievement was the 2015 deal with world powers under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.

But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the accord and launched a "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran.

While Iran has always denied seeking a nuclear weapon, Trump charged it was still planning to build the bomb and destabilising the Middle East through proxy groups in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen.

As old and new US sanctions hit Iran, trade dried up and foreign companies bolted. The economy nosedived and spiralling prices fuelled repeated bouts of social unrest which were put down by security forces.

Iran's ultraconservative camp -- which deeply distrusts the United States, labelled the "Great Satan" or the "Global Arrogance" in the Islamic republic -- attacked Rouhani over the failing deal.

Despite this, Iran's senior political figures, including Raisi, have voiced broad agreement that the country must seek an end to the US sanctions in ongoing talks in Vienna aimed at rescuing the nuclear accord.

Corruption-fighting champion of the poor

Dressed in a black turban and cleric's coat, Iranian ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi casts himself as an austere and pious figure and an corruption-fighting champion of the poor.

On Saturday the 60-year-old was named the winner of the Islamic republic's presidential election, set to take over from moderate Hassan Rouhani in August.

Critics charge the election was skewed in his favour as strong rivals were disqualified, but to his loyal supporters he is Iran's best hope for standing up to the West and bringing relief from a deep economic crisis.

Raisi is not renowned for great charisma but, as head of the judiciary, has driven a popular campaign to prosecute corrupt officials.

In the election campaign he vowed to keep up the fight on graft, construct four million new homes for low-income families, and build "a government of the people for a strong Iran".

Many Iranian media outlets see him as a possible successor to supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who turns 82 next month.

Raisi, whose black turban signifies direct descent from Islam's Prophet Mohammed, holds the title of "hojatoleslam" -- literally "proof of Islam" -- one rank below that of ayatollah in the Shiite clerical hierarchy.

Like other ultraconservatives, he harshly criticised Rouhani's camp after the 2015 nuclear deal was torpedoed by then US president Donald Trump, who reimposed punishing sanctions.

But, like Iranian political figures across the spectrum, Raisi supports efforts to revive the deal to bring relief from Iran's painful economic crisis.

- Student of the guide -

Born in 1960 in the holy city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, Raisi rose to high office as a young man.

Aged just 20, in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the US-backed monarchy, Raisi was named prosecutor-general of Karaj, which neighbours Tehran.

For the exiled opposition and rights groups, his name is indelibly associated with the mass executions of Marxists and other leftists in 1988, when he was deputy prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.

Asked in 2018 and again last year about the executions, Raisi denied playing a role, even as he lauded an order he said was handed down by the Islamic republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to proceed with the purge.

In 2019, the US placed Raisi and others on a sanctions list citing the executions and other alleged rights abuses -- charges Tehran dismissed as symbolic.

Raisi has decades of judicial experience, serving as Tehran's prosecutor-general from 1989 to 1994, deputy chief of the Judicial Authority for a decade from 2004, and then national prosecutor-general in 2014.

He studied theology and Islamic jurisprudence under Khamenei and, according to his official biography, has been teaching at a Shiite seminary in Mashhad since 2018.

In 2016, Khamenei put Raisi in charge of a charitable foundation that manages the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad and controls a large industrial and property asset portfolio.

Three years later, Khamenei appointed him head of the Judicial Authority. Raisi is also a member of the assembly of experts who select the supreme leader.

He is married to Jamileh Alamolhoda, an educational sciences lecturer at Tehran's Shahid-Beheshti University. They have two daughters.

Raisi is the son-in-law of Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer imam and supreme leader's representative for Mashhad.

- 'Uproot sedition' -

His election win comes after he lost to Rouhani in 2017. This time, five ultra-conservatives and two reformists were approved to run after many other prominent figures were disqualified.

Raisi gathered support from traditional conservatives, who are close to the Shiite clergy and the influential merchant class, as well as ultraconservatives who are united in a their anti-Western stance.

He also sought to extend a hand beyond his traditional base, by pledging to defend "freedom of expression" and "the fundamental rights of all Iranian citizens".

Raisi has also vowed to eradicate "corruption hotbeds" -- a theme he already pursued in his judicial role, through a spate of highly publicised corruption trials of senior state officials.

Even judges have not been spared by his much-trumpeted anti-graft drive; several have been sentenced over the past year.

Raisi has also taken a hard line against protest groups. When the Green Movement in 2009 rallied against populist president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad winning a disputed second term, he was uncompromising.

"To those who speak of 'Islamic compassion and forgiveness', we respond: we will continue to confront the rioters until the end and we will uproot this sedition," he said.

Sayyid Ebrahim Raisol-Sadati was born on 14 December 1960. Ebrahim Raisi is an Iranian conservative and principalist politician, Muslim jurist, Chief Justice of Iran, and President-elect of Iran. He has served in several positions in Iran's judicial system, such as Attorney General (2014–2016), and Deputy Chief Justice (2004–2014). He was also Prosecutor and Deputy Prosecutor of Tehran in the 1980s and 1990s. He was Custodian and Chairman of Astan Quds Razavi, a bonyad, from 2016 until 2019. He is also a member of Assembly of Experts from South Khorasan Province, being elected for the first time in 2006 election. He is the son-in-law of Mashhad Friday prayer leader and Grand Imam of Imam Reza shrine, Ahmad Alamolhoda.

Raisi ran for president in 2017 as the candidate of the conservative Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces, losing to moderate incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, 57% to 38.3%. He is sanctioned by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control in accordance with Executive Order 13876.

Ebrahim Raisi was born on 14 December 1960 to a Persian clerical family in the Noghan district of Mashhad. His father, Seyed Haji, died when he was 5.