Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Casts First Ballot In Presidential Vote

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Casts First Ballot In Presidential Vote

Iranian voters go to the polls Friday in a presidential election in which ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi is seen as all but certain to coast to victory over his vetted rivals.

The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, cast the first vote in Tehran and then urged Iran's almost 60 million eligible voters to follow suit before the scheduled close of polls at midnight.

"Each vote counts. come and vote and choose your president. this is important for the future of your country", Khamenei said after casting his vote.

Iranian state-approved pollsters had predicted before the election that the turnout percentage could end up in the low 40s, which would mark a record low for a presidential election since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution, in which its ruling Shiite clerics seized power from a collapsing monarchy. The previous low turnout was 50% in 1993. "Raisi will be the next president whether we vote or not", said an Iranian journalist who asked not to be named due to security concerns.

The only reformist still running is low-profile former central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, who has promised to revive the economy and, unusually in Iran, heavily involved his wife in campaigning.

"I wish we didn't have any of those problems since the registration day", said Rouhani after casting his vote, a clear reference to a hardline election body's rejection from the race of several prominent moderate and conservative candidates. More than 59 million Iranians are eligible to vote.

While hundreds of Iranians, including relatives of dissidents killed since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution and political prisoners, have called for an election boycott, the establishment's religiously devout core supporters are expected to vote for Raisi.

Initially, there were seven candidates for the presidential post in Iran, but only four have continued to compete for the position. He said he backs Iran's talks with the US and other powers to revive the nuclear deal. As supreme leader, Khamenei has final say on all matters of state and oversees its defense and atomic program.

For his part, Khamenei warned of "foreign plots" seeking to depress turnout in a speech Wednesday.

"If we do not vote: Sanctions will be heavier, the U.S. and Israel will be encouraged to attack Iran", the leaflet warned.

State television also aired footage of a polling station set up by Soleimani's grave in the city of Kerman. Poll workers wore gloves and masks, and some wiped down ballot boxes with disinfectants.

Khamenei hopes a victorious Raisi will help clean up some of the systemic corruption in Iran's power structures, said Prague-based Iranian journalist Behnam Gholipour, speaking to VOA Persian.

With economic misery palpable at home, Iran's rulers can not risk starting the talks from scratch after the election, as the ruling clerics are aware their political fortunes rely on tackling worsening economic hardship. But Iran began violating the nuclear curbs in 2019 in retaliation for then-President Donald Trump's decision the previous year to withdraw from the JCPOA and unilaterally tighten US sanctions. Iran's already ailing economy has suffered since, with double-digit inflation and mass unemployment. "This stance is a big no to the Islamic republic", she said.

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