Iranian election officials have announced that hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi has beat out a narrow field of mostly conservative candidates to win Iran's presidential election with nearly 62 percent of the vote.
But the vote was marked by a historically low turnout that provided ammunition for critics of the country's clerically dominated leadership and its tightly guarded corridors of power
The heavily vetted final group of four candidates and scattered calls for a boycott had been expected to favor 60-year-old cleric and judiciary head Raisi, who has been accused by rights groups of crimes against humanity for his part in execution trials three decades ago.
Official turnout was announced at just 48.8 percent, the lowest for any presidential ballot since the Islamic Revolution of 1979.
But Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran's political and religious affairs, called the vote a defeat of "enemy propaganda."
"The great winner of yesterday's election is the Iranian nation, which once again stood up against the propaganda of the enemy's mercenary media and the temptation of ill-wishers, and showed its presence in the heart of the country's political arena," Khamenei said in a statement.
He praised people's "epic and enthusiastic" presence in the voting.
The previous low for turnout in any Iranian presidential election had been 50.6 percent in 1993.
The vote's outcome was widely predicted after vetting authorities disqualified all but seven of hundreds of would-be candidates. Three of those seven bowed out on the last day.
Election day saw many polling stations lightly attended, eyewitnesses said, although state-led media showed queued-up voters throughout June 18.
The leader of the controversial National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) said after the vote that the "nationwide boycott" had dealt the "greatest political and social blow" to Khamenei's system.
The NCRI is the political wing of the Mujahedin-e Khalq Organization (MKO or MEK), an exiled opposition group seeking to overthrow the Islamic republic and which Tehran regards as a "terrorist" organization.
"The boycott proved and showed the world that the Iranian people's only vote is to overthrow this medieval regime," NCRI head Maryam Rajavi was quoted as saying.
Khamenei said grievances over the economy and the pandemic as well as attempts to discourage people from voting and some technical glitches on voting day had no effect on people's determination to vote.
In a move seemingly aimed at directing the international narrative away from low turnout and reformists' calls to boycott the vote, Iran's Foreign Ministry said on June 19 that it had summoned Britain's envoy over "difficulties" for Iranians trying to vote in the United Kingdom.
Former central banker Abdolnaser Hemmati, the only relative moderate left in the race after another quit on the last day of the campaign, tweeted his concession and congratulations to Raisi early on June 19.
"Congratulations to the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the election of Ayatollah Raisi," Hemmati wrote on Twitter. "I hope the 13th government can bring glory to the Islamic Republic of Iran, improve livelihood and livelihood with the comfort and welfare of the great nation of Iran."
The other two hard-line candidates, Mohsen Rezai and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh-Hashemi, congratulated Raisi.
Messages of congratulations to Raisi were quickly announced from Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Iraqi President Barham Salih, the United Arab Emirates’ Vice President and Prime Minister Sheikh Muhammad bin Rashed, and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayed.
But the Foreign Ministry of Iran's regional foe Israel sharply criticized Raisi as Iran's "most extremist president to date."
"An extremist figure, committed to Iran’s rapidly advancing military nuclear program, his election makes clear Iran’s true malign intentions and should prompt grave concern among the international community," the statement said.
The United States said Iranians were "denied their right to choose their own leaders in a free and fair electoral process."
A State Department spokesperson said the United States would continue to engage in negotiations on restoring the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, working alongside allies and partners.
Raisi was one of the judges in 1988 who oversaw a series of speedy trials in which thousands of political prisoners were sentenced to death and executed.
Human rights organizations say he is guilty of crimes against humanity, and the United States has placed him under sanctions.
Amnesty International issued a statement on June 19 urging an investigation into Raisi's past as a deputy prosecutor in Tehran and a member of the "death commission" responsible for thousands of disappearances and extrajudicial executions.
"That Ebrahim Raisi has risen to the presidency instead of being investigated for the crimes against humanity of murder, enforced disappearance, and torture is a grim reminder that impunity reigns supreme in Iran," the group said.
"Iranian authorities paved the way for Ebrahim Raisi to become president through repression and an unfair election," said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. "As head of Iran's repressive judiciary, Raisi oversaw some of the most heinous crimes in Iran's recent history, which deserve investigation and accountability rather than election to high office."
Analysts have suggested that a win for Raisi would signal the rise of anti-Western hard-liners to the detriment of pragmatists like Rohani, a key architect of the moribund 2015 nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.
Both Tehran and Washington have said they want to restore the deal, which was abandoned in 2018 by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump. Negotiations to revive the accord restarted in April with the election on the horizon adding to already complicated talks.
Raisi has suggested he would favor continuing those talks.
But Khamenei has said that he wants "actions, not promises" from the five world powers who originally signed the accord with Tehran, which has steadily flouted terms of the agreement by rebuilding stockpiles of enriched uranium and increasing its ability to enrich it to higher levels of purity.
The European Union has announced that parties to the 2015 deal will hold a formal meeting on June 20.
With reporting by AFP and Reuters