Iranians voted on Friday in a presidential election dominated by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s hard-line protege after the disqualification of his strongest competition, fuelling apathy that left some polling places largely deserted despite pleas to support the Islamic Republic at the ballot box.
Some polling stations were left deserted amid a feeling of apathy among voters, who believe the hardline head of the judiciary Ebrahim Raisi seems all but certain to win.
Former Central Bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati is running as the moderate candidate but hasn’t inspired the same support as outgoing President Hassan Rouhani, who is term-limited from seeking the office again.
As fear over turnout mounted, Iran’s Interior Ministry extended voting by two hours, to 2am local time on Saturday, citing the need to accommodate “crowds” at several polling stations nationwide.
Hediyeh, a 25-year-old woman, said she was convinced her vote will not count: “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.
"I have no candidate here.”
Voter apathy also has been fed by the devastated state of the economy and subdued campaigning amid months of surging coronavirus cases.
Fears about a low turnout have some warning Iran may be turning away from being an Islamic Republic — a government with elected civilian leadership overseen by a supreme leader from its Shiite clergy — to a country more tightly governed by its supreme leader, who already has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defence and atomic program.
“This is not acceptable,” said former President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who sought to change the theocracy from the inside during eight years in office.
“How would this conform to being a republic or Islamic?”
If elected, Mr Raisi would be the first serving Iranian president sanctioned by the US government even before entering office.
This is due to his involvement in the mass execution of political prisoners in 1988, as well as his time as the head of Iran’s internationally criticised 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 also 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.