Iran’s hardline judiciary chief won a landslide victory on Saturday in the country’s presidential election.
It was 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 US 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 more than 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 US sanctions for the low turnout.
But the turnout and voided ballots suggested a wider unhappiness with the tightly controlled election, as activists criticised Raisi’s ascension.
Amnesty International’s secretary-general, Agnes Callamard, said: “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.”
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 hardline 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.
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 on to the presidency amid his country’s decade-long grinding war.
Rouhani, who in 2017 dismissed Raisi as an opponent in his re-election as someone only knowing about “executions and imprisoning” people, met the cleric Saturday and congratulated him.
“I hope I can respond well to the people’s confidence, vote and kindness during my term,” Raisi said.