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Iranian press review: Establishment hoping for low voter turnout

Meanwhile, Iran celebrates warships in the Atlantic, former spy chief continues to be indiscreet, and 12 million Iranians thought to be trading in cryptocurrency
An Iranian woman walks past a mural displaying Iran's national flag in Tehran on 17 June 2021, on the eve of the Islamic republic's presidential election (AFP)

Iranian establishment hoping for low voter turnout

Prominent political science professor and activist Sadegh Zibakalam has argued that Iran’s establishment is deliberately counting on a low voter turnout in the presidential elections on Friday in order to secure the victory of its favoured candidate, Ebrahim Raisi.

Zibakalam, an outspoken reformist analyst, told Arman daily that authorities were no longer worried about the number of people who cast a ballot in the elections. 

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According to Zibakalam, Iran's Guardian Council, the institution responsible for vetting candidates for parliamentary and presidential elections, only approved presidential hopefuls who would not conflict with the establishment's central policies.

The Guardian Council has disqualified all heavyweight candidates for Friday's presidential elections. Leading reformists and conservatives - such as former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ali Larijani, a current adviser to the Supreme Leader - were barred from running for the election.

"When you are seeking a president who won't cause you any problems, logically you have no other way than going on the path leading to an election with low turnout," Zibakalam was quoted as saying.

He added that the reformist bloc that helped President Hassan Rouhani win the elections in 2013 and 2017 would likely not put its weight behind the moderates in this election. 

"Rouhani is our president, but in reality, he has not taken any steps to empower the reformists' discourse," he added.

Along with opposition groups, many Iranian reformists have vowed to boycott this year's presidential election in protest at the Guardian Council's disqualification of many reformist candidates. 

Due to a widespread call by political blocs to boycott the elections, experts foresee that the polls could have one of the lowest turnouts in the history of presidential elections in the country.

Iran shows off naval activity in Atlantic

Army commanders and conservative media have celebrated Iranian warships sailing in the Atlantic Ocean, while the US Pentagon stated that it was closely monitoring the deployment of the two ships.

On 10 June, Iran's state TV, IRIB, announced that the domestically built destroyer Sahand and intelligence-gathering vessel Makran had entered the Atlantic. However, the IRIB did not reveal the two ships' final destination.

"This powerful presence indicates the naval capability and authority of the Islamic Republic of Iran," Fars news agency quoted army deputy coordinator, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, as saying.

On Saturday, publications close to the country's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) hailed the move as a military victory.

Daily Khorasan covered the news on its front page under the headline: "Conquering the Atlantic with Sahand and Makran".

The newspaper suggested that Iran was now an emerging naval power capable of operating in the open seas far from the Persian Gulf.

"While the US [forces] come from 12,000 kilometres away to the Persian Gulf and threaten Iran, the Iranians also have the right to go to the Atlantic and show off," Khorasan wrote. "This move demonstrates our power to threaten US territorial waters.”

Ex-spy chief reveals influence over Guardian Council 

In an interview with the state channel IRIB, Iran's former spy chief Heydar Moslehi revealed new details about how the country's intelligence ministry exerts control over the decisions made by the Guardian Council in vetting candidates for elections.

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Moslehi, a hardline cleric, said that he convinced the Guardian Council to disqualify Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani from running for the 2013 presidential elections, back when he served as intelligence minister in the cabinet of then-president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Rafsanjani's disqualification was one the biggest surprises in the 42-year history of elections in the Islamic Republic. He had served as the right-hand man of Iran's first supreme leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, as parliament speaker, and was a prominent supporter of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's bid to become the second supreme leader.

Rafsanjani began leaning towards the moderate factions following the 2009 re-election of Ahmadinejad and the brutal crackdown of the Green Movement. He died in contested circumstances in 2017.

In his IRIB interview, Moslehi said that his ministry's analysis indicated Rafsanjani would have won the elections if he had been allowed to enter the race in 2013. Based on that analysis, Moslehi said he convinced the council to bar Rafsanjani from running.

In recent weeks, Moslehi has increased public appearances and given a number of controversial interviews. On Saturday, he announced his candidacy for Iran's Assembly of Experts midterm elections, taking place on 18 June.

Millions of Iranians trading cryptocurrencies

Economists estimate that more than 12 million Iranians are trading in digital currencies, despite official restrictions by Iran's central bank on cryptocurrency trading inside the country.

According to official data, more than 2.5 million Iranians have opened an account with the exchange centres in Iran authorised for trading cryptocurrencies - but experts believe that each person with an authorised account uses it to trade on behalf of several other people, usually their friends and family. 

While analysts have different estimates for the number of people using one account, it is believed that each account is actively used by three to five people on average. 

Iran's official news agency IRNA reported that the daily trade of digital currencies was between 50-100tn Iranian rials ($1.1bn-$2.2bn) in mid-March.

Despite official restrictions on ordinary citizens trading these currencies in the country, Iran has turned into a cryptocurrency mining haven due to low electricity prices. 

Since 2019, President Hassan Rouhani's administration has attempted to monopolise crypto-mining in the country. However, over 8,000 illegal mining machines are operating in Iran, according to officials.

* Iranian press review is a digest of reports that are not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye.

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