Tehran- Dressed in a black turban and cleric’s coat, Iranian ultraconservative Sayed Ebrahim Raisi casts himself as an austere and pious figure and a corruption-fighting champion of the poor.
On Saturday the 60-year-old was named the winner of the presidential election, set to take over from moderate Hassan Rouhani in August as 8th president of the Islamic Republic.
The Interior Ministry confirmed on Saturday that Raisi won 61.95 percent of the vote in Friday’s election on a voter turnout of 48.8 percent – the lowest turnout for a presidential election since the 1979 revolution. Raisi got 28,933,004 votes.
Former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei finished second with 3,412,712 votes and was followed by moderate candidate Abdolnasser Hemmati with 2,427, 201 votes, and conservative Amir Hossein Ghazizadeh Hashemi with 999,718 votes.
Critics charge the election was skewed in his favour as strong rivals were disqualified, but to his loyal supporters he is Iran’s best hope for standing up to the West and bringing relief from a deep economic crisis.
Rezaei, Hemmati and Hashemi however conceded defeat ahead of the final announcement on Saturday.
Raisi will take office in early August, replacing Hassan Rouhani who was not allowed by the constitution to run for a third consecutive term.
“I congratulate the people on their choice,” said Rouhani on Saturday.
Raisi is not renowned for great charisma but, as head of the judiciary, has driven a popular campaign to prosecute corrupt officials.
Raeisi is associated with the Principlist camp, but he said he ran in the election this year as an independent when he announced his presidential bid last month.
In the election campaign he vowed to keep up the fight on graft, construct four million new homes for low-income families, and build “a government of the people for a strong Iran”.
Raisi’s election marks a consolidation of power by the conservative and hardline camp, which already controls the parliament and will likely have a replacement for the judiciary as well.
The Muslim scholar, who wears a black turban to signify he is a descendent of Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh), is also seen by many as the country’s next supreme leader.
Student of the guide
Born in 1960 in the holy city of Mashhad in northeastern Iran, Raisi rose to high office as a young man.
Aged just 20, in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the US-backed monarchy, Raisi was named prosecutor-general of Karaj city, which neighbours Tehran.
For the exiled opposition and rights groups, his name is indelibly associated with the executions of counter revolutionaries in 1988, when he was deputy prosecutor of the Revolutionary Court in Tehran.
Nearly 34 years later in 2019, the US placed Raisi and others on a sanctions list citing the executions and other alleged rights abuses — charges Tehran dismissed as symbolic.
Raisi is the first Iranian president to be sanctioned by the United States even before assuming office.
Raisi has decades of judicial experience, serving as Tehran’s prosecutor-general from 1989 to 1994, deputy chief of the Judicial Authority for a decade from 2004, and then national prosecutor-general in 2014.
He studied theology and Islamic jurisprudence under Ayatollah Khamenei and, according to his official biography, has been teaching at a seminary in Mashhad since 2018.
In 2016, Ayatollah Khamenei put Raisi in charge of a charitable foundation that manages the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad and controls a large industrial and property asset portfolio.
Three years later, Raisi was appointed as head of the Judicial Authority. Raisi is also a member of the assembly of experts whcih choses the supreme leader.
He is married to Jamileh Alamolhoda, an educational sciences lecturer at Tehran’s Shahid-Beheshti University. They have two daughters.
Raisi is the son-in-law of Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer imam and supreme leader’s representative for Mashhad.
His election win comes after he lost to Rouhani in 2017. This time, five ultra-conservatives and two reformists were approved to run after many other prominent figures were disqualified.
Raisi gathered support from traditional conservatives, who are close to the clergy and the influential merchant class, as well as ultraconservatives who are united in a their anti-Western stance.
He also sought to extend a hand beyond his traditional base, by pledging to defend “freedom of expression” and “the fundamental rights of all Iranian citizens”.
Raisi has also vowed to eradicate “corruption hotbeds” — a theme he already pursued in his judicial role, through a spate of highly publicised corruption trials of senior state officials.
Even judges have not been spared by his much trumpeted anti-graft drive; several have been sentenced over the past year.
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