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17.06.2021 14:27 News >> Iran Goes To Polls Amid Fears Of Record Low Turnout

Iran Goes To Polls Amid Fears Of Record Low Turnout

'To vote or not to vote' is burning question boggling the minds of voters in Iran ahead of Friday's presidential election.

"To vote or not to vote" is the burning question boggling the minds of voters in Iran ahead of Friday's presidential election.
Many calls have been made in recent days, both by conservatives and reformists, for maximum participation in the poll, amid fears that this year's election could see a record low turnout.
A poll conducted by the Iranian Students Polling Agency (ISPA), affiliated with the state-run Academic Center for Education, Culture and Research (ACECR) on Wednesday, shortly after three key candidates dropped out of the race, put the turnout at 42.2%, a significant drop from 73.3% in the 2017 election.
The lowest turnout in Iran's post-revolution (since 1979) presidential elections was recorded in 1993 — 50.6% — when Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani defeated his conservative rival Ahmed Tavakkoli to retain power.
According to political historian Mahdi Mohammadi, discontent with the grim economic situation and voter apathy had caused the dismal voter turnout in 1993.
This year, history seems to be repeating itself, with the country grappling with similar woes, made worse by unprecedented sanctions and the pandemic, creating discontent and apathy among people.
Disqualification of key reformist figures in this year's election has also fueled the speculation that people might stay away from polling stations on Friday, which would only hurt the chances of reformists.
That explains why leading reformist-moderate figures in the country, including the lone reformist candidate in the fray, former top banker Abdolnaser Hemmati, have urged their supporters to turn up in large numbers, fearing that low turnout might give conservatives an added advantage.
Around 59 million Iranians are eligible to vote in this year's election, including over 1.3 million first-time voters, according to Iran's Interior Ministry. In 2017, around 56 million voters were eligible, of which around 37 million cast their votes.
Reformists on backfoot
On Wednesday, former vice president and one of the two reformist-moderate candidates, Mohsen Mehr-Alizadeh, pulled out of the presidential race, two days ahead of the poll.
His letter to the Interior Ministry had no mention of any candidate, but Hemmati later thanked him, and so did the former Iranian president and the spiritual patron of reformists, Mohammad Khatami, who urged people to vote for Hemmati.
Hemmati is now the lone reformist contestant in the fray, pitted against three conservative candidates, one of whom has consolidated his lead in opinion polls.
Mehr-Alizadeh's withdrawal from the race, as he later acknowledged, was to avoid the split of reformist votes.
On the other hand, two conservative candidates — former IRGC chief Mohsen Rezaei and former deputy parliament speaker Ghazizadeh Hashemi — have refused to leave the field for Ebrahim Raeisi, the judiciary chief and the conservative frontrunner.
Will this work to the advantage of reformists, Mahdi Sohrabi, a Tehran-based political commentator, does not think so.
"If opinion polls are an indication, Raeisi seems to be well ahead of others, which means the presence of other two conservatives may not change the equation greatly," Sohrabi told Anadolu Agency.
"And then, majority of reformist voters have shown a disinclination to cast their ballots this time, despite the passionate appeals, which makes Hemmati's prospects even bleak," he added.
Interestingly, as experts point out, the difference between the 2013 election and now is that the reformist wave is missing this time. In 2013, the presence of Saeed Jalili had spoiled the party of Rouhani's main challenger Baqer Ghalibaf, splitting the conservative vote.
The fact that Hemmati served as the top banker in the incumbent Hassan Rouhani government also makes his case weaker, with widespread discontent over the economic woes of people aggravating during this government.
"The biggest task for Hemmati, which can boost his chances, is to persuade reformist supporters to vote," said journalist and analyst Babak Rezazadeh. "Given the hushed silence and disenchantment among voters, it appears to be an uphill task."
He points to "a significant drop" in support for reformists from 2017, when Rouhani defeated Raeisi by a comfortable margin, with voter turnout at 73.3%.
"Low voter turnout this time means reformist voters are not convinced enough to cast their ballots, and that shows something has changed between 2017 and 2021," he told Anadolu Agency.
Pertinently, Hemmati had to battle acerbic attacks from conservative candidates during the three presidential debates, mostly over economic difficulties like growing inflation, forex crisis, and corruption which the candidates blamed on the incumbent administration, of which Hemmati was a part.
Main contest
With three candidates — two conservatives and one reformist — dropping out of the race on Wednesday, four candidates are now vying for the top executive post of the country.
The main contest, however, is between the conservative frontrunner Raeisi and the reformist frontrunner Hemmati, with the former having an edge.
A study of voter inclinations by Iran's state broadcaster on Wednesday, after the withdrawal of three candidates from the race, showed Raeisi far ahead in the race with 57.3% votes. Hemmati lagged behind with a meager 2.8% votes.
Some other opinion polls circulating on reformist social media channels have shown Hemmati in the lead, though their veracity could not be independently confirmed.
Hemmati's campaign has been bolstered by the support of top reformist figures like Mohammad Khatami, Ali Motahhiri and Hadi Khamenei, the brother of Ali Khamenei. He has even received the tacit support of Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, whom he has proposed the role of vice president or foreign minister in his government.
On the other hand, Raeisi enjoys the backing of a coalition of conservatives, parliament members, the country's top clergy, as well as leading Sunni clerics of Iran. There have also been reports of reformist newspapers guild announcing their support for him.
While Raeisi had been the lead conservative candidate from day one, Hemmati emerged as a reformist dark horse during the presidential debates, where he particularly targeted Raeisi, while dismissing others as "cover candidates" for him.
The two engaged in heated arguments during the debates, with Hemmati launching most of the attacks, accusing Raeisi of lacking the knowledge of the economy, and holding him responsible for social media filtering as the chief of the judiciary.
Raeisi, in turn, blamed Hemmati and his former boss for the economic woes and difficult living conditions of people, while pledging to bring a change in his government.
With campaigning coming to an end 24 hours prior to the vote, it remains to be seen who will have the last laugh on Saturday when the results are to be announced.
While Raeisi at the moment is in the driver's seat, Hemmati can overtake him if the voter turnout is high, like it was in 2017. That looks highly unlikely. -



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