July 1, 2024

Iran’s Presidential Election Advances to Second Round Amid Low Voter Turnout

Week of July 1, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Iran’s Ministry of Interior announced that Masoud Pezeshkian and Saeed Jalili were the top vote getters in the Friday, June 28 Presidential election and have advanced to the second round run-off, which will be held Friday, July 5th. Notably official statistics indicated that voter turnout in the Presidential election has reached its lowest level compared to all previous Presidential elections in the Islamic Republic, at just 40 percent. Previously, the lowest voter turnout was in the 2021 presidential election, where approximately 49 percent of eligible voters participated. A group of opponents of the Islamic Republic, families seeking justice, and both former and current political prisoners announced their boycott of the election. Turnout roughly matches the number of Iranians who went to the polls in the parliamentary elections earlier this year.

On the morning of Saturday, June 29, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior announced that the total number of counted votes (valid and invalid) across Iran was 24,535,185. The election results by the number of votes are as follows:

Masoud Pezeshkian: 10,415,991 votes

Saeed Jalili: 9,473,298 votes

Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf: 3,383,340 votes

Mostafa Pourmohammadi: 206,397 votes

Simultaneously with the announcement of the first round election results, debates arose among principlists about the reasons for the decreased voter turnout and the decline in votes for conservative candidates compared to Ebrahim Raisi’s election. Mostafa Pourmohammadi, who did not advance to the second round, described the voter turnout as “full of messages” and said the message was “clear and unambiguous,” expressing hope that it would be heard. Without naming the two candidates who advanced to the second round, he urged people to make the “right decision” next Friday to pave the way for efficiency and rationality. Pourmohammadi continued, “I knew well that in these conditions, turning affection into votes is impossible. However, regardless of the election results, I stayed true to my commitment to you with sincerity and loyalty.”

Other conservative figures began to consolidate around Jalili in the run-off against Pezeshkian with official endorsements. Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who received over 13 percent of the votes in the first round, issued a statement supporting Jalili in the second round. Alireza Zakani, a hardline principlist who had been approved by the Guardian Council but withdrew his candidacy, also called for all principlists to support Saeed Jalili, citing internal differences among principlists in the first round but asserting that there would be no such differences in the second round. The Coalition Council of Islamic Revolution Forces, composed of several principlist groups, issued a statement commending the people’s participation in the 14th presidential election and declared their support for Saeed Jalili. On Saturday evening, Mohsen Mansouri, the head of Saeed Jalili’s campaign, announced a joint meeting with the campaign heads of Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, Alireza Zakani, and Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi.

Foreign policy is likely to be one of the key differences in the Jalili-Pezeshkian run-off, given their sharply divergent views on relations with Western countries and Iran’s nuclear program. Jalili considers himself a politician with roots in the Foreign Ministry and currently holds a position in high-level foreign policy decision-making bodies like the Supreme National Security Council as Ali Khamenei’s representative. His key political achievement was leading nuclear negotiations from 2008 to 2013, which did not culminate in any nuclear agreement but saw additional UN Security Council Resolutions enacted against Iran.

In this election, he was the main candidate advocating for an aggressive and anti-Western foreign policy. In the coming week, he will try to attract votes from those who support this approach, particularly Iran’s regional activities within the framework of the Axis of Resistance.

In contrast, Masoud Pezeshkian has criticized anti-Western sentiment and Iran’s growing closeness to China and Russia. He argues that abandoning a wholly hostile foreign policy towards the West is essential to solving deep economic problems and reducing the heavy burden of sanctions. Some of those advocating a boycott of the election have argued that the president is unable to end Iran’s aggressive regional foreign policy and has limited impact on bringing about significant changes in foreign policy. 

Mohammad Javad Zarif, the former Foreign Minister who negotiated the 2015 nuclear accord with the United States, is continuing to play a pivotal role in the Pezeshkian campaign despite a veiled rebuke from Supreme Leader Khamenei. Zarif has warned that a Jalili victory in the elections would increase pressures on Iran, whereas Pezeshkian can pursue a better plan. In support of Pezeshkian, Zarif stated, “We aim to transition from a minimal, merely subsistence lifestyle to a fulfilling and dignified life for the Iranian people, where everyone has the opportunity for growth, creativity, and prosperity. We don’t want people to constantly worry about the news, wondering if sanctions will increase, if there will be war, or if the dollar rate will go up or down. In a great and ancient country like Iran, it is not fitting for people to be uncertain about their future, nor for our elites to seek their future elsewhere in the world.”

Pezeshkian has also strived to present himself as a representative of the demands of ethnic and religious minorities. His campaign has performed better in minority-populated areas. Unlike Jalili, Pezeshkian does not support the morality police and mandatory hijab. However, in the first round of elections, his campaign was not successful in using these positions to draw people to the polls. Following the election, in a post on the social media platform X, Pezeshkian responded to a user urging he take forward leaning positions if elected. He responded affirmatively, indicating that his government would stand against morality police patrols, the filtering of the internet and external pressure at every opportunity, which was a commitment backed by other Pezeshkian advisers.

Also of note were incidents outside the country involving groups opposing the Islamic Republic who advocate for boycotting Iran’s early presidential election, who clashed with those participating in the election abroad. This included the filming and photographing of voters outside embassies, consulates, and interest sections of the Islamic Republic where absentee voting was held. At some of these locations, confrontations were documented, including harsh insults and provocative language directed at election participants in an apparent effort to intimidate and deter voters.

The reactions from voters to these actions have varied. Some, including elderly individuals, look bewildered and try to leave the scene, while others cover their faces with scarves brought for entering the polling place. One man threw his coat over his head, but an opponent crouched down to film from a lower angle. In other cases, participants responded to the protesters by responding with verbal confrontations of their own. In some cases, the verbal back and forth escalated into physical clashes. The extent of these confrontations led to one arrest in the UK and police intervention in France and the U.S. to prevent further violence.

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