In Brief: Ayatollah tightens grip on Iranian elections as polling day looms

Ayatollah Khamenei. Image Credit: Tasnim News, CC BY 4.0.

Iran’s next presidential election on Friday is set to be dominated by hardline candidates close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Popular frustrations over economic problems and restrictions on freedom are expected to keep many pro-reform Iranians away from the ballot box.

In a carefully vetted field, the front runner is Ebrahaim Raisi, a hardline judge seen by many as representing Iran’s security establishment at its most aggressive.

While authorities hope a high turnout would boost their legitimacy, official polls suggest that only 40 percent of Iran’s 59 million eligible voters will go to the polls.

Government critics point to anger over an economy devastated by US sanctions and a lack of voter choice as reasons for the lack of enthusiasm. Many heavyweight moderate and conservative candidates were blocked from standing by the country’s hardline election body, overseen by Khamenei.

The race to succeed pragmatist president Hassan Rouhani is dominated exclusively by five hardliners who have embraced Khamenei’s strongly anti-western worldview, including Raisi and former nuclear negotiated Saeed Jalili.

While the regime’s supporters will vote, hundreds of dissidents at home and abroad have called for a boycott, including opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi, under house arrest since 2011.