Among the four men expected to appear on the ballot in Friday’s presidential race, a protege of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s most powerful man, has been poised to win the elections.

Hardliner Ebrahim Raisi, a judge sanctioned by Washington for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners, is favourite to succeed the pragmatist incumbent Hassan Rouhani, forbidden under the constitution from serving a third four-year term.

Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the high-profile job of judiciary chief in 2019. A few months after, the United States sanctioned him for human rights violations, including the executions of political prisoners in 1980s and the suppression of unrest in 2009, events in which he played a part according to human rights groups.

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Now, his speculated win will likely result in a cheer for clerical leadership but at the same time, stir Western human rights concerns.

The hardliner has sounded that the Islamic Republic needs no help from foreigners but noted that he supports efforts to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, a development that would bring an easing of Western sanctions that have crushed Iran’s economy.

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Voter turnout for the polls is projected to be at its lowest as the election comes amid economic hardship and frustration with the hardline rule; the public disillusionment and widespread disqualification of reformist and pragmatic candidates by the Guardian Council, the country’s 12-member constitutional vetting body.

Many Iranians cast doubt on the vote to make any impact since a majority of the would-be candidates, many of whom are advocating political and personal freedoms, have been disqualified from the race, leaving the voters with no viable options other than Raisi and his moderate former Central Bank governor Abdolnasser Hemmati at the ballot box.

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Prominent politicians and relatives of dissidents killed since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution have called for an election boycott.

“Why should I vote when it has no impact? Raisi will be the next president whether we vote or not,” said an anonymous Iranian journalist said.

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