Iran Holds Presidential Election Runoff Amid Low Voter Turnout

Polls opened on Friday for Iran’s runoff presidential election, the interior ministry announced. This election pits reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian against ultraconservative Saeed Jalili to succeed Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash in May. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, cast his ballot as the polls opened at 08:00 am (0430 GMT), as shown on state TV. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi stated that the election is taking place across 58,638 polling stations domestically and internationally.

The runoff comes amid heightened regional tensions due to the war in Gaza, disputes with the West over Iran’s nuclear program, and widespread dissatisfaction with the country’s sanctions-hit economy. In the first round of voting last week, Pezeshkian led with around 42 percent of the vote, while former nuclear negotiator Jalili secured 39 percent. The turnout was notably low, with only 40 percent of the 61 million eligible voters participating, the lowest since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Khamenei urged for a higher turnout in the runoff, emphasizing its importance in a video broadcast on state TV. He noted that while the first round’s participation was lower than expected, it was not seen as a rebellion against the system. Last week’s vote also saw conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and cleric Mostafa Pourmohammadi finishing in third and fourth places, respectively.

Originally scheduled for 2025, the presidential election was brought forward due to Raisi’s death. Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old heart surgeon and parliament member, has garnered support from Iran’s main reformist coalition, including endorsements from former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani. Jalili, known for his hardline stance, has significant backing from conservative figures and insists that Iran does not need the 2015 nuclear deal for progress. The election debates have focused on economic issues, international relations, voter turnout, and internet restrictions.

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