July 5, 2024

The Big Question of Iran’s Second Round Presidential Election

The first round of Iran’s presidential election last week saw a new dynamic. Whereas low turnout typically delivers victory to Iran’s conservatives, record low participation in the first round led to a lead for the reformist candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian, over the second-leading vote getter, the hardliner Saeed Jalili. The second round voting today will lead to victory for one of these two candidates, who stand at opposite ends of the Islamic Republic’s political spectrum.

Critically, the key question heading into the Friday, July 5 run-off is whether or not Masoud Pezeshkian will bring more voters to the polls who stayed home last week. While Pezeshkian was the leading vote getter, with 10,415,991 votes, Jalili was within a million votes at 9,473,298 votes. 

If turnout is similar, Jalili can be expected to gain votes from many of those who voted for other conservative candidates, including third-place finisher Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf who received 3,383,340. While Ghalibaf endorsed Jalili, many of his supporters are more moderate and the two have consistently clashed over the years over a variety of policies, and some of his voters will instead turn out for Pezeshkian.

Pezeshkian and his supporters amplified their rhetoric knowing that turning out disillusioned voters will be the key to the race. This includes committing to be a voice in the government against the morality police’s harsh enforcement of mandatory hijab, as well as internet filtering and advocating for the lifting of sanctions. Pezeshkian has also made a point of reaching out to Iran’s minorities, who represent sizable constituencies in the electorate but have deep grievances against the government, including as a result of the harsh violence inflicted against them in the 2022 protests.

Notable activists who sat out the first round have weighed in on whether or not to participate in the election, on both sides. Keyvan Samimi, a long-time journalist and human rights activist imprisoned for his participation in the 2023 “Save Iran” conference that explored a transition from the Islamic Republic, made an impassioned defense of his plan to participate and vote for Pezeshkian

Samimi stated that he sees “resistance as standing against totalitarians who view the people as trash, have no fear of protracted war, disrespect our daughters with force and moral police, perceive the economy as resistance in a cage, prefer national and ultimately Chinese internet, call sanctions a blessing, suppress civil society, do not accept the new generation, and do not recognize the diversity of beliefs and lifestyles. In short, the rise of Jalili and his associates will strengthen Shia Talibanism, weaken and exhaust society, increase external tensions and sanctions, and destroy the half-living civil society.” 

On the other hand, Samimi noted that he believes a Pezeshkian’s presidency would “engage with all Iranians, adhere to freedom and justice within the limits of ministerial and governmental powers, and even if they cannot resist some radical and unjust actions of the totalitarians, they at least obstruct and hinder them.” On foreign policy, Samimi noted the benefits of sanctions lifting, stating “The possibility of reducing tensions and sanctions is greater with (Pezeshkian and his team) in government, they can facilitate economic improvement and empower society with the help of the majority of experts, and the conditions for activism and demand-making are much more favorable in their government than with their totalitarian rival.” He vowed to vote “To improve daily life; To increase the capacity for transformation; To thwart the totalitarians; And to open the way for activism.”

Still, other activists and political prisoners have vowed to boycott the election. Women imprisoned for their political activism – Anisha Asadollahi, Reyhaneh Ansari-Nejad, Hasti Amiri, Golrokh Iraee, Nahid Taghavi, Nahid Khodajo, Nasrin Khazri Jowadi, Farah Nesaji, and Maryam Yahyavi – issued a joint statement from Evin prison. Their letter stated:

“We, the leftist women imprisoned in Evin Prison, unequivocally declare that we do not and will not participate in the presidential elections…We believe that liberation will not come through ballot boxes but only by our own hands, through conscious struggle against all forms of exploitation, oppression, and discrimination.”

Many others outside the country, including satellite television channels that are viewed inside Iran, have amplified calls for a boycott and tapped into widely-held concerns that – regardless of differences between the candidates – the Presidency is not empowered to achieve far-reaching change. 

Voting is expected to continue until midnight in Iran, with an outcome and Iran’s next President expected to be announced around noon the following day (or in the early morning hours in the United States).

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