Here’s what you need to know about Raisi and Iran’s presidential election.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Who is Ebrahim Raisi?
- What are Raisi’s political views?
- How are Iran’s presidential elections run?
- What do the election results mean?
Who is Ebrahim Raisi?
Raisi, 60, rose to his highest position of prominence as the head of Iran’s judiciary, one of the most powerful roles in government.
He ran in Iran’s last presidential election in 2017, losing to President Hassan Rouhani, who secured a second four-year term. But this time around, Raisi was seen as the chosen candidate of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — a major boost for his chances.
Raisi, like Khamenei, was born in the city of Mashhad in northeast Iran. He is an ultraconservative cleric, though he does not hold the status of ayatollah, the highest rank for Shiite clergy. He claims a lineage tracing back to the prophet Muhammad, which enables him to wear a black turban.
For many Iranians, Raisi is associated with a bloody series of political trials and executions in 1988 around the conclusion of the Iran-Iraq war. At the time, Raisi was a judge in the Tehran revolutionary court, which was undergoing a purge of opponents to the Islamic Republic, which took power in the country’s 1979 revolution. Human rights groups say Raisi was involved in the deaths of thousands of people. For some conservative voters, this history adds to his political clout.
In recent years, Khamenei appointed Raisi to positions that elevated his stature within Iran’s centers of power.
In 2016, Raisi was tapped to lead the Astan Quds Razavi foundation, a politically and economically powerful role. The foundation runs the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad, a major Shiite pilgrimage site. It serves as both a charity and a holding company for a wide range of properties and businesses, such as agriculture and construction.
After Raisi ran this economic empire for three years, Khamenei appointed him to head Iran’s judiciary in 2019. In that capacity, he led a fight against corruption — and along the way, ousted and tarnished the reputations of some of his key political opponents.
That same year, Raisi was elected vice president of another key institution: Iran’s Assembly of Experts, which is charged with choosing the next supreme leader when 82-year-old Khamenei dies.
Raisi is considered a possible contender to replace Khamenei, who served twice as president before being appointed supreme leader in 1989. His election as president could bolster Raisi’s popular legitimacy as Khamenei’s successor.
What are Raisi’s political views?
Raisi is one of Khamenei’s most trusted confidants. The two believe in a severe interpretation of Islamic jurisprudence as the basis for the state and government.
Raisi supports Iran’s state-led economic development, in which foundations, such as the one he used to run; the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps; and other semipublic partnerships control a large part of the economy. He generally opposes opening up Iran to foreign investors.
Raisi is hostile to engagement with the United States and diplomacy with the West, as championed by Rouhani and his camp of pragmatic centrists and reformists.
Khamenei, however, has expressed his support for talks aimed at returning to the 2015 nuclear agreement, which President Donald Trump left in 2018. Raisi, though critical of the United States, also supports the idea of the deal in tandem with the removal of crippling U.S. sanctions. Some analysts predict that Khamenei could feel more comfortable returning to the nuclear deal with a like-minded ally in place as president.
In a news conference Monday, Raisi said he would not meet with President Biden and opposed opening up talks around limiting Iran’s ballistic missile program and reining in its support for regional proxies — two areas of engagement in which Biden’s team has expressed interest.
Raisi has made fighting corruption a key part of his campaign. His critics say he has long been part and parcel of Iran’s corrupt and repressive political institutions.
How are Iran’s presidential elections run?
Iran has a bifurcated political system, divided between power centers controlled by the supreme leader, who wields ultimate authority, and institutions overseen by the president, who remains constrained by the supreme leader.
The Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps is among the key groups that answer to the supreme leader.
Before presidential elections, the Guardian Council, a body ultimately beholden to the supreme leader, vets and either approves or disqualifies would-be candidates. Despite the inherent restrictions, some Iranian elections have been more competitive and uncertain than others. After allegations of massive vote-rigging in 2009, Khamenei oversaw a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests known as the Green Revolution.
This year, the Guardian Council added new restrictions and in May approved only seven of nearly 600 registered candidates. Of those, five, including Raisi, were ultraconservative, and two were centrist politicians with little mainstream popularity. The Guardian Council disqualified all popular reformist and moderate candidates, as well as some possible key Raisi contenders, such as Ali Larijani, the former speaker of parliament.
The limited list angered many Iranians and led to increased calls for boycotting the election. Though Khamenei initially approved the Guardian Council’s decisions, amid the backlash, he slightly backtracked, saying some disqualified candidates may have been wronged. Some disqualified candidates have accused the Guardian Council of working to engineer Raisi’s win.
In the lead-up to the election, the seven candidates held three televised debates. Critics say they had little substantive debate, with hard-liners largely focused on criticizing Rouhani’s government. Days before the election, two candidates — one hard-liner and one moderate — dropped out.
A low voter turnout was expected following calls for boycotts, reports of voter apathy and record-low votes cast in last year’s parliamentary election. While Tehran’s government has claimed that turnout was higher than usual, journalists in the capital said the opposite.
What do the election results mean?
The June 18 vote saw low voter turnout: Just 48.8 percent of eligible voters turned out. In Tehran, the capital, the rate was even lower, with just 26 percent of people voting.
Raisi received 17.8 million votes, far surpassing his competitors.
The low turnout probably boosted Raisi’s share of the vote. But it also posed a broader challenge for Khamenei, who analysts say wants elections to be seen as legitimate.
“The vote will strengthen the security services’ hold on power in anticipation of a transition to a new supreme leader, and will raise further questions about the political system’s popular legitimacy,” Ali Reza Eshraghi, an Iran expert, wrote for the European Council on Foreign Relations before the election.
Many in Washington are now worried that Iran under Raisi will be even more hostile to engagement and curbing its nuclear and regional ambitions, as well as instituting social reforms.
Others, including Reza Akbari, a scholar of Iranian history, cautioned that Iran’s long-term trajectory still remained malleable.
“Today was a defeat for reformists, but the struggle is ongoing [with] many more battles ahead,” he wrote on Twitter. “It may seem impossible now, but Iran’s civil society will find alternative ways to retain its pressure on various state bodies, demanding sociopolitical [and] economic reforms.”
This report has been updated.