On Sunday, Iran’s hardline press hailed ultraconservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi’s presidential election victory, while the marginalized reformist party indulged in soul-searching. “The Dawn of a New Era,” read the joyous front-page headline of the conservative Resalat newspaper, hailing Raisi’s 62 percent victory in Friday’s election as the head of Iran’s judiciary. Raisi, a pious and austere Shiite Muslim priest, is viewed as close to Iran’s 81-year-old supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has ultimate political control in the country.
Raisi will succeed moderate President Hassan Rouhani as Iran tries to salvage its shattered nuclear deal with major powers and escape severe US sanctions that have thrown the country into chaos. Resalat expected a welcome departure from Rouhani’s administration, which it described as beset by political infighting and preoccupied with “futile domestic and foreign concerns.
Meanwhile, the moderate Jomhouri-e Eslami daily said that the conservatives had solidified their grip on power across the state, including in parliament, the courts, the powerful Guardian Council, and the armed forces. The newspaper’s editorial was ironic in tone, stating that “we, the people of Iran, owed the conservative faction a homogeneous government” and “the people have delivered”.
Raisi’s victory was generally expected after the candidate-vetting Guardian Council prohibited numerous political heavyweights from competing. The turnout was 48.8%, a record low for a presidential election in the Islamic republic. Despite the economic hardships and the “enemy’s propaganda,” according to the Kayhan newspaper, which has been critical of Rouhani, turnout was “epic,” referring to boycott calls from opposition parties abroad. On the front page of the ultraconservative Javan daily, which praised an election “with no losers,” a full-page photo of a smiling Raisi was also published.
Given the “discontent over the economy and the coronavirus” outbreak, which has hit Iran hard, the amount of voter turnout was deemed “reasonable and logical.” In the meantime, the reformist tabloid Arman-e Melli encouraged Raisi to “establish trust for the 70%” who voted against him, abstained, or spoiled their ballots, and to put foreign policy and the easing of US sanctions first. The 2015 deal with international powers, under which Iran agreed to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, was Rouhani’s crowning achievement during his eight years in office.
Since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement in 2018 and unleashed a “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran, the deal has been dangling by a thread. Meanwhile, the reformist Shargh daily lamented the poor performance of its single candidate, former central bank chief Abdolnasser Hemmati, who received only 8.4 percent of the vote. It also said that reformist leaders, who favor social reforms and greater links with the West, had ignored their voter base and urged them to “return to the people.”