Iran's Low Voter Turnout Marks Historic Presidential Election

Massud Peseschkian or Said Dschalili: one of them will be the president of Iran. The decision will be made after the second round of presidential elections on July 5. Despite all the differences, these two candidates are very similar

by Sededin Dedovic
Iran's Low Voter Turnout Marks Historic Presidential Election
© Majid Saeedi / getty Images

In the presidential election in Iran, held on Friday, June 28, no candidate managed to win more than 50 percent of the votes to achieve the necessary absolute majority for victory. Now, on July 5, it will be decided who will take over the presidential function.

The two candidates with the most votes are going to the second round: Massud Peseschkian, who received 42.5 percent of the votes, and Said Dschalili, who received 38.7 percent of the votes.

Saeed Jalili, the hard-line presidential candidate of Iran, waving to supporters in Khorramabad city on July 2, 2024 in Khoramab© Majid Saeedi / Getty Images

Candidate Massud Peseschkian

Cardiologist Massud Peseschkian is considered the moderate candidate among the six politicians permitted by the ultra-conservative Iranian Guardian Council to run for president.

Peseschkian had already attempted to become a presidential candidate in 2021; however, the Guardian Council rejected him at that time. Allowing him to run this time is seen as a strategy by the Guardian Council to mobilize disillusioned voters.

Nevertheless, this strategy did not bear fruit: the official voter turnout was only 40 percent, the lowest since the Islamic Revolution in 1979. "I don't believe the turnout in the second round on Friday will be much higher," said Hamidreza Azizi, a political scientist from the Berlin Foundation for Science and Politics (SWP), in an interview with Deutsche Welle.

"Massud Peseschkian failed to mobilize reformist voters, and the hardliners couldn't mobilize many voters either. At the same time, the hardliners are so divided that they couldn't agree on a single candidate."

Only 21 percent of voters voted for the hardliners

Out of a total of 61 million eligible voters in Iran, just over 13 million cast their votes last Friday for three hardline candidates: Said Dschalili (Said Džalilij), the current president of the Iranian parliament, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Mohammad Bager Galibaf), and Islamic cleric Mostafa Purmohammadi (Mostafa Purmohammadij).

Mohammad-Bagher Ghalibaf and two conservative candidates, who were eliminated just before the first round of elections, have already called on their supporters to vote for Dschalili (Džalili). Said Dschalili is considered a candidate of the ultra-conservative camp in Iran.

Under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (Mahmud Ahmadinedžad), he was Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Europe and South America. He was responsible for the failure of the nuclear negotiations at that time. It was only under Ahmadinejad's successor that a nuclear deal was reached - which was later canceled by US President Donald Trump.

Dschalili continues to oppose the normalization of relations with the West and advocates for the expansion of strategic cooperation with Russia.

People, many of them expatriate Iranians living in Berlin, gather to demand freedom and democracy for Iran the day after Irans p© Getty Images / getty Images

Dschalili has long aspired to become president.

However, he has never been a favorite among the hardliners. In the 2013 presidential election, he won only eleven percent of the votes, finishing in third place. In 2021, he withdrew his candidacy in favor of Ebrahim Raisi, who ultimately won as the sole hardliner candidate.

Raisi's death in a helicopter crash on May 19 made the early elections unavoidable. "Not all voters who voted for Ghalibaf are now willing to give their votes to Dschalili," points out Iranian expert Azizi, adding, "His ultra-conservative stance could lead even some traditional supporters of the Islamic Republic to vote for Peseschkian."

Peseschkian's loyalty to Ayatollah Khamenei

During his election campaign, Peseschkian emphasized his loyalty to Iran's Supreme Leader.

In Iran, the president is not the head of state; he is merely the head of government. The real power is concentrated in the hands of the religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (Ali Hamenei). Khamenei (Hamenei) criticized the disqualification of Peseschkian for the 2021 presidential elections by the Guardian Council.

Peseschkian expressed gratitude for this during his campaign and stressed that he would not allow any insult to the religious leader. At the same time, Peseschkian is trying to win over disillusioned reformist supporters; he advocates for rebuilding trust between a possible moderate government and the population.

Peseschkian has been a member of parliament since 2008 and belongs to the group of moderate reformists. Under President Mohammad Khatami (Mohammad Hatami) from 1997 to 2005, he was the Minister of Health. He is now 69 years old.

"If we assume that the official figures are correct and not exaggerated, we see that 60 percent of voters in Iran did not vote. I don't believe they – especially women – will come to the polls next Friday," says Tehran photojournalist Aliyeh Motallebzadeh to DW.

She has been arrested several times in recent years for her work and advocacy for women's rights. She is the vice president of the "Iranian Association for the Defense of Press Freedom." Motallebzadeh emphasizes that "all the candidates during the election campaign, each of whom is part of the establishment and has held important positions at various levels, remained silent or even denied the systematic oppression of women.

They behaved as if they were in opposition and had no part in the daily humiliations of women in this country. I am not just talking about the mandatory hijab for women, which is only the tip of the iceberg, but their discrimination at all levels because of their gender." Portraits of the 4 candidates who participated in the first round of the presidential elections in Iran on June 28, 2024.

Portraits of the 4 candidates who participated in the first round of the presidential elections in Iran on June 28, 2024. Source: DW