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Low-key moderate leads tight Iran presidential race, source says

3 min

Iranians voted on Friday in a run-off presidential election to choose between a low-key moderate and a hardliner close to the supreme leader at a time of growing public frustration, regional tensions and Western pressure.

Iranian presidential candidate Masoud Pezeshkian waves during a campaign event in Tehran, Iran, July 3, 2024. Majid Asgaripour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

Iranians voted on Friday in a run-off presidential election to choose between a low-key moderate and a hardliner close to the supreme leader at a time of growing public frustration, regional tensions and Western pressure.

An Iranian source told Reuters that moderate candidate Masoud Pezeshkian was leading in the race, citing an early unofficial tally.

"Pezeshkian is much ahead of (hardline) Saeed Jalili based on the votes counted so far," the source said.

Polling ended at midnight in Iran after being extended three times for a total of six hours. The interior ministry said initial reports showed the turnout was around 50%, higher than the first round. The final result will be announced on early Saturday, the interior ministry said.

The run-off follows a June 28 ballot with historically low turnout, when over 60% of Iranian voters abstained from the snap election for a successor to Ebrahim Raisi, following his death in a helicopter crash.  

The vote is a tight race between low-key lawmaker Pezeshkian, the sole moderate in the original field of four candidates, and hardline former nuclear negotiator Jalili, a staunch advocate of deepening ties with Russia and China.

While the election is expected to have little impact on the Islamic Republic's policies, the president will be closely involved in selecting the successor to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's 85-year-old Supreme Leader who calls all the shots on top matters of state.

"I have heard that people's zeal and interest is higher than in the first round. May God make it this way as this will be gratifying news," Khamenei told state TV after casting his vote.

Khamenei acknowledged on Wednesday "a lower than expected turnout" last week, but said "it is wrong to assume those who abstained in the first round are opposed to Islamic rule".

Voter turnout has plunged over the past four years, which critics say underlines that support for clerical rule has eroded at a time of growing public discontent over economic hardship and curbs on political and social freedoms.

Only 48% of voters participated in the 2021 election that brought Raisi to power, and turnout was 41% in a parliamentary election in March.

However, the interior ministry spokesman said early reports indicated "higher participation compared with the same hour in the first round of the election".

The election coincides with escalating Middle East tensions due to the war between Israel and Iranian allies Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, as well as increased Western pressure on Iran over its fast-advancing uranium enrichment programme.

"Voting gives power ...even if there are criticisms, people should vote as each vote is like a missile launch (against enemies)," Iran's Revolutionary Guards Aerospace Commander Amirali Hajizadeh told state media.

The next president is not expected to produce any major policy shift on the nuclear programme or change in support for militia groups across the Middle East, but he runs the government day-to-day and can influence the tone of Iran's foreign and domestic policy.


Election rivals Jalili and Pezeshkian are establishment men loyal to Iran's theocracy. But analysts said a win by the anti-Western Jalili would signal a potentially an even more authoritarian domestic policy and antagonistic foreign policy.

A triumph by Pezeshkian might promote a pragmatic foreign policy, ease tensions over now-stalled negotiations with major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, and improve prospects for social liberalisation and political pluralism.

However, many voters are sceptical about Pezeshkian's ability to fulfil his campaign promises as the former health minister has publicly stated that he had no intention of confronting Iran's power elite of clerics and security hawks.

"I did not vote last week but today I voted for Pezeshkian. I know Pezeshkian will be a lameduck president but still he is better than a hardliner," said Afarin, 37, owner of a beauty salon in the central city of Isfahan.

Many Iranians have painful memories of the handling of nationwide unrest sparked by the death in custody of young Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini in 2022, which was quelled by a violent state crackdown involving mass detentions and even executions.

"I will not vote. This is a big NO to the Islamic Republic because of Mahsa (Amini). I want a free country, I want a free life," said university student Sepideh, 19, in Tehran.

The hashtag #ElectionCircus has been widely posted on social media platform X since last week, with some activists at home and abroad calling for an election boycott, arguing that a high turnout would legitimise the Islamic Republic.

Both candidates have vowed to revive the flagging economy, which has been beset by mismanagement, state corruption and sanctions reimposed since 2018 after the United States under then-President Donald Trump ditched the nuclear deal.

"I will vote for Jalili. He believes in Islamic values. He has promised to end our economic hardships," retired employee Mahmoud Hamidzadegan, 64, said in the northern city of Sari.

By Parisa Hafezi



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