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Low-key kickoff to an Iran election that is seen as a forgone conclusion

Only 7 out of 600 hopefuls approved to run, including 5 ultra-conservatives; many likely to stay away from vote expected to focus on corruption, economy and not nuclear deal

An Iranian walks across a campaign banner hanging on the facade of a building in the capital Tehran on May 28,  2021. - Iran's presidential election campaign officially kicked off, without fanfare and in an atmosphere of indifference as many say the result is a foregone conclusion. ( AFP)
An Iranian walks across a campaign banner hanging on the facade of a building in the capital Tehran on May 28, 2021. - Iran's presidential election campaign officially kicked off, without fanfare and in an atmosphere of indifference as many say the result is a foregone conclusion. ( AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s presidential election campaign officially kicked off on Friday, without fanfare and in an atmosphere of indifference as many say the result is a foregone conclusion.

On the streets of the capital Tehran, for now just occasional posters urge Iranians to vote on June 18 with a “single voice”, for the future of an “eternal Iran”.

Hamidreza, a 41-year-old engineer, said he was hesitant about voting for the moment.

“I don’t even know if I’ll vote or not,” he said.

Like others AFP spoke to, he declined to provide his surname.

The vote comes amid widespread discontent over a deep economic and social crisis, and after the violent repression of waves of protests in the winter of 2017-18 and in 2019.

Only two reformist candidates, neither with broad national appeal, are facing five ultra-conservative runners.

In this file photo taken on May 15, 2021, Iranian judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi delivers a speech after registering his candidacy for Iran’s presidential elections, at the Interior Ministry in capital Tehran, ahead of the presidential elections scheduled for June. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP)

Hamid, a 52-year-old insurance agent, indicated he had already made his choice: ultraconservative judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi.

Raisi “really worked well in the justice system and did a good job at fighting corruption”, Hamid said.

The Islamic republic’s candidate-vetting Guardian Council this week approved seven candidates to run in the election from a field of about 600 hopefuls.

The council — a conservative-dominated, unelected body — disqualified moderate conservative Ali Larijani and first vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri, as well as firebrand former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The move appears to have cleared the way for a strong run by Raisi.

But it also unleashed a flood of criticism of the Guardian Council and is expected to lead to an increase in voter abstention.

“I prefer not to vote than to make the wrong choice, or to have to choose between bad and worst,” said Arezou, a private-sector worker.

Larijani, an adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and former parliamentary speaker, was seen as the only person capable of challenging Raisi, according to local media.

Raisi won 38 percent of the vote in the 2017 presidential election but was defeated by incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, who is constitutionally barred from running for a third consecutive term.

Rouhani, a moderate who has governed with the support of reformists and also moderate conservatives like Larijani, has been an advocate of detente with the West and of ending Iran’s international isolation.

Instead, Iran was plunged into a deep recession after former US president Donald Trump torpedoed Rouhani’s signature achievement, the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers which offered sanctions relief in return for Tehran’s pledge never to acquire an atomic weapon.

The deal galvanized ultra-conservative opposition.

But with negotiations underway in Vienna on reviving the accord, it is not expected to be the focus of the election campaign.

Supreme leader Khamenei, who has endorsed a continuation of the nuclear talks to secure the lifting of sanctions, has taken the issue out of the equation for the candidates, urging them instead to campaign on economic issues such as youth unemployment.

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