Reformist to face ultraconservative in Iran presidency runoff

Out of Iran's 13 previous presidential elections since the Islamic revolution in 1979, only one led to a runoff, in 2005 (ATTA KENARE)
Out of Iran's 13 previous presidential elections since the Islamic revolution in 1979, only one led to a runoff, in 2005 (ATTA KENARE)

The sole reformist in Iran's presidential election, Masoud Pezeshkian, will face the ultraconservative Saeed Jalili in a runoff, authorities said on Saturday, following a vote marred by historically low turnout.

Pezeshkian secured 42.4 percent of the vote, while Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator, came second with 38.6 percent, according to figures from Iran's elections authority.

Conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf was next with 13.8 percent, while the only other candidate, conservative cleric Mostafa Pourmohammadi, got less than one percent.

"None of the candidates could garner the absolute majority of the votes," electoral authority spokesman Mohsen Eslami said.

In his first post-election remarks, Pezeshkian thanked his supporters and urged them to vote again next Friday "to save the country from poverty, lies, discrimination and injustice".

"I hope your presence will be the basis of a new voice for change in attitude, behaviour, conversation and in the distribution and allocation of resources," he added in a video published on the website of the reformist newspaper Etemad.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei had called for a high turnout ahead of Friday's vote.

Only slightly more than 40 percent of the 61 million electorate took part -- a record low turnout for the Islamic republic -- and more than one million ballots were spoiled.

The poll had been scheduled to take place in 2025 but was brought forward by the death of ultraconservative president Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month.

- Conservatives consolidate -

The Guardian Council, which vets candidates, had originally approved six contenders.

But a day ahead of the election, two of them -- the ultraconservative mayor of Tehran Alireza Zakani and Raisi's vice president Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi -- dropped out.

After the final results were released, they both asked their supporters to vote for Jalili in the July 5 runoff.

Ghalibaf followed suit, asking "all revolutionary forces and supporters" to get behind Jalili's bid for the presidency.

In the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, the Guardian Council disqualified many reformists and moderates, prompting many voters to shun the election.

The turnout then was just under 49 percent, which at the time was the lowest in any presidential election in Iran.

Friday's vote took place amid heightened regional tensions over the Gaza war, a dispute with the West over Iran's nuclear programme and domestic discontent over the state of Iran's sanctions-hit economy.

Opposition groups, especially in the diaspora, meanwhile called for a boycott, questioning the credibility of elections.

Pezeshkian, 69, is a heart surgeon who has represented the northwestern city of Tabriz in parliament since 2008.

He served as health minister under Iran's last reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who held office from 1997 to 2005 and has endorsed Pezeshkian's bid in the current elections.

- 'Resistance' -

Pezeshkian criticised Raisi's government for a lack of transparency during nationwide protests triggered by the September 2022 death in police custody of Mahsa Amini.

Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, had been arrested for allegedly violating the Islamic republic's strict dress code for women.

In recent campaigning, Pezeshkian called for "constructive relations" with Washington and European countries in order to "get Iran out of its isolation".

People, however, are not optimistic, with 32-year-old trader Sina saying, "there will not be much change" even if Pezeshkian is elected president.

"If he wins, he will have to work with a parliament whose head is Ghalibaf and the Supreme National Security Council whose head is Jalili," he added.

Jalili is widely recognised for his uncompromising anti-West stance.

The 58-year-old has held several senior positions in the Islamic republic, including in Khamenei's office in the early 2000s.

He is currently one of Khamenei's representatives in the Supreme National Security Council, Iran's highest security body.

"I would like Mr. Jalili to become the president and lead Iran to progress with religious rationality based on resistance," said Shima, 43-year-old filmmaker in Tehran.

On Saturday, the reformist newspaper Sazandegi ran the headline "Long live hope" on its front page, while the state-run Iran daily hailed what it called a "strong" turnout.

Regardless of the result, Iran's next president will be in charge of applying state policy outlined by the supreme leader, who wields ultimate authority in the country.

Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi said Friday's vote went smoothly.

"The presidential election was conducted in complete security, in perfect health, with very serious competition and with the valuable presence of people at the ballot boxes," he said.

The Tasnim news agency said however that militants attacked a vehicle carrying ballot boxes in the southeastern province of Sistan-Baluchistan, leaving two policemen dead and others wounded.