Runoff Election in Iran: Voters Choose Between Hardliner and Moderate
In a pivotal moment for Iran, citizens headed to the polls on Friday to elect a new president following the tragic death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash last month. The election occurs against a backdrop of widespread economic struggles, ongoing protests, and escalating regional tensions.

Candidates: Hardliner vs. Moderate

The runoff election pits Saeed Jalili, a hard-line former nuclear negotiator, against Masoud Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon and veteran parliamentarian aligned with moderates and reformists. The first round of voting on June 28 saw no candidate secure the required majority, necessitating the runoff. Notably, the initial turnout was the lowest ever recorded for an Iranian election, casting doubt on Friday’s voter participation.

Public Sentiment and Boycott Calls

Calls for a boycott have emerged, including from jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi. However, many potential voters seem to have independently chosen not to participate, as no prominent opposition movement exists within or outside the country. State television showed modest lines at select polling stations, suggesting limited engagement.

Restricted Ballot and Lack of Oversight

As in past elections since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, women and advocates for radical change are excluded from the ballot. Additionally, there is no international monitoring of the voting process. The election coincides with heightened tensions in the Middle East, particularly related to the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.

Regional Tensions and Nuclear Concerns

Iran’s regional activities have intensified, with its first-ever direct attack on Israel in April over the Gaza conflict. Iranian-backed groups like Hezbollah and the Houthi rebels have also increased their activities. Meanwhile, Iran continues to enrich uranium close to weapons-grade levels, maintaining a significant stockpile. The 2015 nuclear deal, which Pezeshkian’s backers helped negotiate, collapsed in 2018 when then-President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. from the agreement, leading to hardliners consolidating power in Iran.

Supreme Leader’s Influence

Although Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds ultimate authority in Iran, the presidency can influence the country’s stance on international relations. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi confirmed that polling stations opened at 8 a.m. local time. Khamenei was one of the first to vote, encouraging citizens to participate and select the best candidate.

Demographics and Voting Process

Over 61 million Iranians are eligible to vote, including about 18 million young voters aged 18 to 30. Polls are scheduled to close at 6 p.m. local time but may be extended to boost turnout. This runoff is only the second in Iran’s history, the first being in 2005 when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad defeated former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Campaign Rhetoric and Legacy of Raisi

Pezeshkian’s supporters have warned against a “Taliban”-style regime under Jalili, who has countered by accusing Pezeshkian of fear-mongering. The late Raisi, seen as a potential successor to Khamenei, had a controversial legacy involving mass executions in 1988 and crackdowns following protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022.

As Iran votes, the outcome will significantly impact its future direction amidst ongoing internal and external challenges.