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Hard-Line Judiciary Head Wins Iran Vote06/19 08:30

   

   DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) -- Iran's hard-line judiciary chief won the 
country's presidential election in a landslide victory Saturday, propelling the 
supreme leader's protege into Tehran's highest civilian position in a vote that 
appeared to see the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic's history.

   Initial results showed Ebrahim Raisi won 17.8 million votes in the contest, 
dwarfing those of the race's sole moderate candidate. However, Raisi dominated 
the election only after a panel under the watch of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali 
Khamenei disqualified his strongest competition.

   His candidacy, and the sense the election served more as a coronation for 
him, sparked widespread apathy among eligible voters in the Islamic Republic, 
which has held up turnout as a sign of support for the theocracy since its 1979 
Islamic Revolution. Some, including former hard-line President Mahmoud 
Ahmadinejad, called for a boycott.

   In initial results, former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei won 
3.3 million votes and moderate Abdolnasser Hemmati got 2.4 million, said Jamal 
Orf, the head of Iran's Interior Ministry election headquarters. The race's 
fourth candidate, Amirhossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi, had around 1 million votes, 
Orf said.

   Hemmati offered his congratulations on Instagram to Raisi early Saturday.

   "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 Twitter, Rezaei praised Khamenei and the Iranian people for taking part 
in the vote.

   "God willing, the decisive election of my esteemed brother, Ayatollah Dr. 
Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, promises the establishment of a strong and popular 
government to solve the country's problems," Rezaei wrote.

   The quick concessions, while not unusual in Iran's previous elections, 
signaled what semiofficial news agencies inside Iran had been hinting at for 
hours: That the carefully controlled vote had been a blowout win for Raisi amid 
the boycott calls.

   As night fell Friday, turnout appeared far lower than in Iran's last 
presidential election in 2017. At one polling place inside a mosque in central 
Tehran, a Shiite cleric played soccer with a young boy as most of its workers 
napped in a courtyard. At another, officials watched videos on their mobile 
phones as state television blared beside them, offering only tight shots of 
locations around the country -- as opposed to the long, snaking lines of past 
elections.

   Balloting came to a close at 2.a.m. Saturday, after the government extended 
voting to accommodate what it called "crowding" at several polling places 
nationwide. Paper ballots, stuffed into large plastic boxes, were to be counted 
by hand through the night, and authorities said they expected to have initial 
results and turnout figures Saturday morning at the earliest.

   "My vote will not change anything in this election, the number of people who 
are voting for Raisi is huge and Hemmati does not have the necessary skills for 
this," said Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman who gave only her first name while 
hurrying to a taxi in Haft-e Tir Square after avoiding the polls. "I have no 
candidate here."

   Iranian state television sought to downplay the turnout, pointing to the 
Gulf Arab sheikhdoms surrounding it ruled by hereditary leaders, and the lower 
participation in Western democracies. After a day of amplifying officials' 
attempts to get out the vote, state TV broadcast scenes of jam-packed voting 
booths in several provinces overnight, seeking to portray a last-minute rush to 
the polls.

   But since the 1979 revolution overthrew the shah, Iran's theocracy has cited 
voter turnout as a sign of its legitimacy, beginning with its first referendum 
that won 98.2% support that simply asked whether or not people wanted an 
Islamic Republic.

   The disqualifications affected reformists and those backing Rouhani, whose 
administration both reached the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and saw it 
disintegrate three years later with then-President Donald Trump's unilateral 
withdrawal of America from the accord.

   Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and 
subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases. Poll workers wore 
gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

   If elected, Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by 
the U.S. government even before entering office over his involvement in the 
mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head 
of Iran's internationally criticized judiciary -- one of the world's top 
executioners.

   It also would put hard-liners firmly in control across the government as 
negotiations in Vienna continue to try to save a tattered deal meant to limit 
Iran's nuclear program at a time when Tehran is enriching uranium at its 
highest levels ever, though it still remains short of weapons-grade levels. 
Tensions remain high with both the U.S. and Israel, which is believed to have 
carried out a series of attacks targeting Iranian nuclear sites as well as 
assassinating the scientist who created its military atomic program decades 
earlier.

   Whoever wins will likely serve two four-year terms and thus could be at the 
helm at what could be one of the most crucial moments for the country in 
decades -- the death of the 82-year-old Khamenei. Speculation already has begun 
that Raisi might be a contender for the position, along with Khamenei's son, 
Mojtaba.

 
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