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Ebrahim Raisi Poised To Win Iran Election

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Iranian officials say that voters have given an insurmountable lead to Ebrahim Raisi in the race to be the country's next president. He is a hard-line cleric, a judge and former prosecutor. The turnout was low by Iranian standards, with many Iranians fatigued by years of sanctions and the ongoing pandemic and frustrated by political leaders. NPR's Peter Kenyon is in Tehran. Peter, thanks so much for being with us.

PETER KENYON, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: And what were you able to hear about the vote?

KENYON: Well, state television announced Raisi's all but certain victory. And then the returns came in showing quite a big gap, with Raisi far outpacing his nearest rival. There were a few voting glitches some towns had, but they were resolved fairly quickly. The supreme leader congratulated everyone on a successful vote. So after the pragmatic Hassan Rouhani, it looks like Iran will be turning to a hard-line president, one who will serve alongside the hard-line heads of the legislature and the judiciary, so a definite consolidation of power on the right here.

SIMON: What was the turnout like?

KENYON: Well, according to state television, more than 28 million Iranians cast ballots. There were 59 million eligible, so well under 50%. Some who didn't vote said they're protesting the decision by authorities to disqualify some very prominent candidates. Others pointed to the sour economy they've all been living under in recent years. And so basically while in the past authorities have pointed to high turnout rates as proof of the legitimacy of the Iranian regime, this election was notable for the relative indifference of the voters.

SIMON: What's reaction been like in the country or elsewhere, for that matter?

KENYON: Well, here in Iran, the reaction from other candidates was quite swift. Along with their congratulations, they added, OK, now do something about the economy. This is the major problem, partly due to American sanctions. It was an unavoidable issue with virtually everyone I talked with. They all said getting out from under U.S. sanctions and putting the economy back on track is the most important issue the next president could tackle, which is one thing. But how he's going to do that, of course, is another matter.

SIMON: Peter, what can you tell us about the man who's going to be Iran's next president?

KENYON: Well, Ebrahim Raisi is a hard-line cleric. He's the head of Iran's judiciary. As a judge, he was sharply criticized in some quarters for his role in the controversial executions of thousands of political prisoners in the late 1980s. He's sometimes referred to as a protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. He shares many of his hard-line views, and he's made no secret of the fact that he would love to be the next supreme leader of Iran.

SIMON: Can you explain a bit how power is divided in this and whether this really marks any shift in how the country might, for example, handle relations with the U.S. and the rest of the West?

KENYON: Well, that's a good point, Scott. The president in Iran tends to carry out policies shaped and driven by the supreme leader. Now, how a Raisi presidency might change engagement with the West - that - to some extent, that remains to be seen. Some have speculated the foreign ministry could become a little more cautious about negotiating international agreements, although so far, Raisi's raised no objections to reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, for example. Analysts say if those talks in Vienna on restoring the deal do wrap up before August, when Rouhani leaves and Raisi will take power, then Raisi could just say, well, that happened on Rouhani's watch, and then he could reap the credit for any benefits that Iran sees.

SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Tehran, thanks so much.

KENYON: Thanks, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.

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