Elections in Iran: a new president and many tensions
The elections held last June 18 in Iran crowned Ebrahim Raisi, a right-wing ultraconservative. What are the domestic repercussions and impact on international relations with the United States and Israel?
The elections in Iran were won by Ebrahim Raisi, the current head of the Iranian judiciary and also the Persian country's top ultra-conservative leader. Raisi won the election with 17.9 million votes, 62% of the total, while the other contestants shared the votes as follows: Mohsen Rezaie got 3.4 million votes, Abdonasser Hemmati followed with 2.4 million votes and Amir-Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi brought up the rear with 1 million votes. However, the big problem was the turnout, the lowest since 1979, at 28.9 million, or 48.8% of the population. This apparent low voter confidence in the regime signals it will have hard time in the short term to keep a difficult situation under control.
The supreme leader of the Iranian state, the Ayatollah Khamenei, said that the turnout was actually very good, despite the various boycott attempts by enemies who tried to bypass the Iranian people, and even with the well-known economic problems caused by the pandemic. Now, the 60-year-old Raisi will remain head of the Iranian judiciary until early August.
There are, however, some dark points in the career and life of the new Iranian president. From the time he was 15 years old, he was enrolled in the QOM seminary; later, at only 19 years old, he actively participated to the Islamic Revolution, becoming in 1981 one of the youngest people appointed as a prosecutor in Karaj. From here, his rise within the Iranian Judiciary began and coincided with the end of the war with Iraq in 1988 when the country was on the threshold of instability. Thus began an ironclad crackdown, of which very little is still known, but which seems to have cost thousands of Iranian lives, with the complicity of the then Prosecutor Raisi.
Raisi's victory at last week’s polls brought the extremists back to power, something that has not happened since 2013, and sharply displaced reformists who want greater engagement with the west. Moreover, according to the latest figures, some 3.4 million votes were void, a sign of a boycott attempt by reformist supporters. This shows that relations with other foreign countries will be difficult with Raisi in power and the gradual reform process will be hindered.
The reactions from Israel
In the light of the election results in Iran, Israeli Prima Minister Naftali Bennett was the first to comment, once again emphatically stating that Israel will never allow Iran to possess nuclear weapons. Bennett is convinced that Raisi's win is not one dictated by popular vote, but rather a victory granted by the power of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With these statements, it is clear that relations between Iran and Israel, which have always been highly tense, are even more so now, despite the arrival of two new presidents.
In addition, Bennett also drew the attention of all Western states, stating that the election of Raisi poses a serious danger at the international level. Finally, he called on the major world powers to review all agreements with Iran, marking a truly difficult start for the two new presidents.
United States and the JCPoA: what happens now?
Biden and top aides, led by US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley, are facing pressure on whether to lift sanctions on Iran as they negotiate with Raisi’s team to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.
"Our foreign policy doesn't start with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) and it doesn't end with it," Raisi told reporters during his first press conference since his landslide victory on Friday. "We will support any negotiation that meets our national interests. But we will not tie the economic situation and people's livelihoods to these talks." At the same conference, he also said: "It was the US that violated the JCPOA” and insisted the White House honor its commitment to removing the sanctions.
The question is hovering over the nuclear talks, which just concluded a sixth round this weekend. The talks have been held mainly in Vienna, with European officials acting as liaisons between the delegations of Iran and the United States, which have no formal diplomatic relations and are not negotiating directly with each other. Some officials say the two sides are making progress, but no one is willing to definitively predict that a resolution is in sight, and Raisi's election could complicate the deliberations. However, the election of a conservative could have ended the talks altogether.