By Parisa Hafezi
DUBAI, June 19 (Reuters) – Hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi leads Iran‘s presidential election, an interior ministry official said on Saturday, a day after millions of Iranians voted in a contest that critics boycotted over economic woes and political restrictions.
Raisi had so far won 17.8 million votes, the official said in televised news conference. More than 28 million Iranians out of 59 million eligible voters cast ballots, the official said.
Raisi, a 60-year-old Shi’ite cleric who is subject to U.S. sanctions for alleged human rights abuses, had been widely expected to win the contest, thanks to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s support.
Raisi’s only moderate rival congratulated him.
“I hope your administration, under the leadership of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will make the Islamic Republic proud, improve livelihood and ensure the nation’s well-being and welfare,” media quoted former central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati as saying in a letter.
In a televised speech, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani congratulated “the people’s elected (president)”, without naming him.
“Because it has not been officially announced yet, I will delay the official congratulations. But it is clear who received the votes,” Rouhani said.
Other candidates also congratulated Raisi.
Raisi is a harsh critic of the West and the standard bearer of Iran’s security hawks. Accused by critics of human rights abuses stretching back decades – allegations his defenders deny – Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019.
The election comes at a critic time. Iran and six major powers are in talks to revive their 2015 nuclear deal. Then U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and reimposed crippling sanctions that have squeezed Iran‘s oil income.
Raisi offered no detailed political or economic programme during his election campaign, but has backed the revival of the nuclear pact, a development that would bring an easing of U.S. sanctions that have crushed the economy.
Khamenei, not the president, has the last say on all state matters like foreign and nuclear policies.
LACK OF CHOICE
Hoping to boost their legitimacy, the country’s clerical rulers had urged people to turn out and vote on Friday, but dissidents inside and abroad said popular anger over economic hardship and curbs on freedoms kept many Iranians at home.
Another deterrent for many pro-reform voters was a lack of choice, after a hardline election body barred heavyweight moderate and conservative candidates from standing.
Analysts said the exclusions by the Guardian Council cleared the way for Raisi’s expected victory.
Before Hemmati’s concession, a U.S. State Department spokesperson said: “Iranians were denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process” – a likely reference to the disqualification of candidates.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi Editing by William Mallard and Frances Kerry)