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Iran Supreme Leader leads prayers at Raisi funeral as election looms

2 min

Iran's Supreme Leader led prayers in Tehran on Wednesday at the funeral of the late President Ebrahim Raisi, as the clerical establishment hurried to organise an early election that could further erode its legitimacy amid growing public discontent.

Mourners attend the funeral for victims of the helicopter crash that killed Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and others, in Tehran, Iran, May 22, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

Iran's Supreme Leader led prayers in Tehran on Wednesday at the funeral of the late President Ebrahim Raisi, as the clerical establishment hurried to organise an early election that could further erode its legitimacy amid growing public discontent.

The June 28 vote to replace Raisi, killed in a helicopter crash on Sunday, will need to galvanise a population that showed little interest in the 2021 ballot that gave the hardline cleric the presidency, a role that oversees day-to-day government.

Raisi died at a time of worsening strains between the clerical leadership and wider society, aggravated by tightening political and social controls and a worsening economy.

Growing numbers of voters have shunned recent elections, a worrying sign for the leadership, which sees turnout as a credibility test for the 45-year-old Islamic Republic.

"The establishment lacks options to secure a high turnout in such a short period of time," said a former Iranian official, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

"People are extremely unhappy with the state of economy, many others are furious about social restrictions and a lack of electoral options could result in a low turnout."

State TV showed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei leading prayers as tens of thousands of mourners thronged streets at the funeral in Tehran, which will move to the cleric's eastern home city of Mashhad for burial on Thursday.

Raisi's coffin, as well as those of Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and other officials who were killed alongside the president in Sunday's crash near the Azerbaijan border, were passed over the heads of weeping mourners.

A resident in Tehran said many people had received a text message on their phones, calling on people to "attend the funeral of the martyr of service".

Iran proclaimed five days of mourning for Raisi, who enacted the hardline policies of his mentor Khamenei aimed at entrenching clerical power, cracking down on opponents, and adopting a tough line on foreign policy issues such as nuclear talks with Washington to revive Iran's 2015 nuclear pact.

Over 40 high-ranking foreign delegations at the levels of head of state, foreign ministers, and heads of parliament will take part at the commemoration ceremony in Tehran on Wednesday afternoon, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said.

Iran-backed Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah's deputy chief Naim Qassem joined the funeral in Tehran.

"I am here on behalf of the Palestinian people, in the name of the resistance factions of Gaza ... to express our condolences,” Haniyeh told the crowd, who chanted "Death to Israel".

Following a historic low voter turnout of around 41% during a parliamentary election in March, Iran's rulers are under pressure to produce a high turnout for the June 28 contest.

A hardline watchdog body in 2021 banned prominent moderate and pragmatist candidates from running for the presidential election, which insiders said was aimed at securing Raisi's win.

If the same scenario occurs, it will undermine the clerical establishment's hope of a high turnout in June.

By Parisa Hafezi

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