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Iran to hold run-off vote between reformist and ultraconservative candidates

First-round leaders for presidency, Massoud Pezeshkian and Saeed Jalili, will square off on 5 July after failing to win majority of votes
An Iranian woman votes at a polling station in a snap presidential election in Tehran, 28 June 2024 (Reuters)

Iran will hold a run-off vote in its presidential election on 5 July after none of the top candidates secured more than 50 percent of votes, the interior ministry said on Saturday.

Reformist lawmaker Massoud Pezeshkian, the sole moderate running in the election, and hard-line principlist diplomat Saeed Jalili led the tight race that pitted them against two other conservative candidates.

"None of the candidates could garner the absolute majority of the votes, therefore, the first and second contenders who got the most votes will be referred to the Guardian Council" for the second round, said Mohsen Eslami, an interior ministry spokesman.

With more than 24 million votes counted, Pezeshkian led with over 10 million votes, ahead of Jalili, who had more than 9.4 million votes, according to provisional results released by the ministry.

Turnout in the election was about 40 percent, the lowest on record since the 1979 revolution.

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Pezeshkian, faithful to Iran's theocratic rule, has represented the northern city of Tabriz in parliament since 2008. He advocates for "constructive relations" with the West to "get Iran out of its isolation", economic reform, social liberalisation and political pluralism.

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During the 2022 anti-establishment protests triggered by the death of Mahsa Amini in police custody after she was arrested for alleged violation of the dress code for women, he criticised Raisi's government for a lack of transparency and suggested that Amini was beaten and killed at the hands of the morality police.

"We will respect the hijab law, but there should never be any intrusive or inhumane behaviour toward women," Pezeshkian said on Friday after casting his vote.

Meanwhile, Jalili, the representative of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in the Supreme National Security Council, is a former nuclear negotiator who holds ultra-conservative views on both domestic and foreign issues. He is particularly strict on internet and social freedoms, and his foreign policy rejects any form of agreement with the US.

While running in the 2021 presidential race, Jalili declared that joining any international conventions and agreements is useless for the country. 

In the past few weeks, many Iranians at home and abroad called for a boycott of the election, questioning its credibility.

Speaking to Middle East Eye, a reformist newspaper editor said that in a run-off between Jalili and Pezeshkian, many undecided voters and even those boycotting the race would come out to vote for Pezeshkian because the middle class is highly apprehensive about Jalili.

The editor said that at many supporters of current hardline parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, who finished third in the first round, would vote for Pezeshkian in the run-off.

"At least 40 percent of his supporters, who are moderate and pragmatic conservatives, would vote for Pezeshkian as they fear Jalili's domestic policies and dead-end foreign policy," the editor said.

Iran had called early presidential election to replace principlist Ebrahim Raisi after his death in a helicopter crash last month. The election comes amid discontent in the sanctions-hit country following years economic crisis and social crackdowns. 

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