© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A presidential election banner is seen in Valiasr Square in Tehran, Iran, June 16, 2021. Majid Asgaripour / WANA (West Asia News Agency) about REUTERS
(Reuters) – The Iranian president called on voters to put their grievances aside and vote in a presidential election on Friday that is expected to boycott record numbers of people due to economic hardship and frustration over hardline rule.
Hardline justice chief Ebrahim Raisi and moderate former central bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati are the main contenders after the hardline Guardian Council disqualified several prominent candidates from running and resigned others.
The relatively moderate President Hassan Rouhani called on the Iranians on Thursday after the end of the election campaign not to let “deficiencies in an institution or group” prevent them from voting, an obvious reference to the Guardian Council.
“Let’s not think about complaints tomorrow for the time being,” said Rouhani on televised notes.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has already urged people to attend in large numbers and said it would help stave off foreign pressure on the Islamic Republic.
Official opinion polls suggest that the turnout may be as low as 41%, significantly lower than in previous elections.
In addition to the anger over the disqualification of prominent moderates, the complaints include the economic emergencies exacerbated by the US sanctions as well as official corruption, mismanagement and crackdown on the protests in 2019, triggered by rising fuel prices.
The accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian plane in Iran last January, killing 176 people, also undermined public confidence.
“Voting would be an insult to my intelligence,” said 55-year-old Fatemeh, refusing to give her middle name for fear of reprisals. “Raisi has already been selected by the government regardless of who we choose.”
Prominent dissidents inside and outside the country have called on Iranian citizens to reject the elections, including exiled former Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi and opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, who have been under house arrest since 2011.
On the other hand, many leading reformists have rallied behind Hemmati, including former President Mohammad Khatami, arguing that a massive boycott would guarantee a Raisi victory.
According to the Iranian Constitution, the supreme leader, who is elected for life and is responsible for electing six members of the twelve-member Guardian Council, has most of the powers of the state.
The polling stations open at 7 a.m. local time and close at 2 a.m. on Saturday. The interior minister told state television that due to the Covid-19 pandemic, votes will be held in 67,000 outdoor locations across the country, with social distancing and face masks on. Voters are asked to bring their own pens.
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