Tehran, Iran (CNN)Iranians voted Friday in a controversial election that was all however assured to ship a hardline president in any case the opposite critical contenders had been barred from the race.

The virtually uncontested frontrunner is Ebrahim Raisi, the ultra-conservative judiciary chief, who’s at present below US sanctions. His solely non-conservative election rival is Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former central financial institution governor operating on a reasonable platform.

There had been indicators on Friday afternoon that election turnout can be decrease than hoped for by the nation’s conservative clerical rulers, as many moderate-minded voters snubbed a ballot seen by many as a foregone conclusion. Polls forward of the election predicted that turnout may very well be lower than 50% for the primary time for the reason that institution of the Islamic Republic in 1979.

“Each vote counts … come and vote and choose your president … this is important for the future of your country,” mentioned Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei after casting the primary vote early Friday. “Low turnout will increase the pressure of the enemies.”

Raisi emerged because the frontrunner after an election supervisory physique referred to as the Guardian Council barred his essential rivals from the race. The transfer was broadly criticized, even by Khamenei, who referred to as a few of the disqualifications “unjust.”

Raisi’s anticipated win would come at a pivotal second for Iran. The subsequent authorities should confront an financial disaster exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and requires constitutional reform. Tehran can also be at present locked in negotiations with the United States about learn how to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

There are additionally rising questions across the succession plans for the 81-year-old Khamenei. Regardless of who wins the presidential election, below Iran’s political system it’s the Supreme Leader who makes the ultimate name on all main issues of state. Analysts mentioned victory for Raisi in Friday’s presidential election may pave the way in which for him to grow to be the following Supreme Leader.

“It’s the right of the people to be upset and perhaps some have been upset by the current situation, but I’m asking all of the Iranian people to come to the polls to solve the problems,” Raisi tweeted after he solid his poll on Friday.

“I hope that people will feel the change soon … I consider myself a servant for all of the people of Iran,” Raisi additionally mentioned, based on Iran’s semi-official Tasnim information company.

Iran's hardline presidential frontrunner could take the country back to a dark past, just as Iranians are itching for change

Raisi is an in depth affiliate of the Supreme Leader with a brutal file on human rights who for many years has performed a number one function within the prosecution of political prisoners in Iran.

In 1988, Raisi was a part of a four-person loss of life panel that oversaw the execution of as much as 5,000 political prisoners, a lot of whom had been later buried in unmarked graves, based on rights teams.

Raisi has by no means commented on the allegations, but it surely’s broadly believed that he not often leaves Iran for worry of retribution or worldwide justice over the executions.

Just a few months after Khamenei named Raisi judicial chief in 2019, the US sanctioned him for his function within the 1988 executions and for his involvement within the suppression of the 2009 anti-government Green Movement protests.

Activists name for boycott

Polling stations on Friday gave the impression to be stuffed largely by conservative voters, many carrying posters of Qasem Soleimani, the highest Iranian navy commander killed in Baghdad final 12 months on orders from former US President Donald Trump.

But many Iranians gave the impression to be staying away from the polls, dismayed by what they see as a closely engineered election designed to additional entrench the facility of the nation’s hardline clerical rulers, regardless of the general public’s requires reforms. Over the previous few days, three candidates have dropped out of the race, two of them conservatives who had been apparently making an attempt to additional enhance Raisi’s possibilities.

On social media, activists referred to as on individuals to boycott the vote. “I won’t be voting. I don’t think it’s very effective to the situation of the country,” mentioned one 22-year-old man earlier than the election. “It’s possible that we already know what’s going to happen.”

“The government themselves have already selected [the president]. This is the truth,” mentioned one disgruntled middle-aged man. “We are in a bad situation. We have to choose only the one they have chosen for us.”

All of the Iranians who criticized the election in interviews with CNN requested to not be named for safety causes.

A mother and her children, wearing Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps' uniforms, line up at a polling station on Friday.

On Friday the pinnacle of Iran’s nationwide safety council, Ali Shamkhani, blamed the Trump administration for “disheartening” Iranian voters with its so-called most strain marketing campaign on Tehran. Trump pulled the US out of the nuclear cope with Iran in 2018 and unleashed crushing sanctions on the Iranian economic system.

Fears within the authorities over voter apathy appeared to spur Khamenei to make a last-minute plea to the citizens on Thursday, warning that poor turnout would play into the arms of Iran’s “enemies” and destabilize the nation. Previously, Khamenei warned that clean votes can be thought-about a “sin.”

But within the days main as much as the ballot, election posters had been sparse, marketing campaign facilities had been largely empty and the temper was somber.

    “I don’t care about elections. Who is meant to take care of us? Rouhani … Khamenei? They’re passing us from one person to another like a basketball,” mentioned one lady earlier than the vote who listed a litany of her financial troubles, together with being unable to supply the medicine wanted for her sick son.

    “The worst thing that can happen to me because of my objections is that I’m arrested and killed,” she mentioned. “But that’s better than watching my son die of sickness.”