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Iran is heading to a presidential runoff next week after Friday’s presidential election failed to deliver a clear majority for any single candidate, even as the single reformist contender took the lead, Voice of America reported.

Official results released Saturday showed reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian won 43 percent of the vote, while his conservative opponent Saeed Jalili secured around 39 percent. Conservative parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf drew 13.8 percent, while cleric Mostafa Pourmohammadi received less than one percent.

However, the turnover was around 40 percent, the lowest ever recorded in Iran’s presidential elections. Around 48 percent of voters cast their ballots in the 2021 polls.

Friday’s vote comes nearly two months after the death of hardliner President Ebrahim Raisi and other senior officials in a helicopter crash.

The next round – scheduled on July 5 – will pit Pezeshkian against Jalili, with its outcome influencing Iran’s future amid international sanctions, scrutiny over its nuclear program and its military support to Russia in its war against Ukraine, the Wall Street Journal noted. A health minister under former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and who has also run for president twice before, Pezeshkian is a trained heart surgeon and lawmaker, who gained prominence for his stance against the crackdown on the 2022 protests and violence perpetrated by the morality police, wrote CNN.

During the 2022 protests, Pezeshkian said in an interview with Iran’s IRINN TV: “It is our fault. We want to implement religious faith through the use of force. This is scientifically impossible.”

Pezeshkian favors restarting nuclear talks with the United States and other world powers to lift sanctions and address the country’s economic woes. However, Jalili – an adviser to the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei – opposes curbing Iran’s nuclear program and relaxing the country’s strict religious rules, which would include keeping compulsory head coverings for women.

Observers said the elections are also a referendum on Iran’s regime following the months-long anti-government protests that gripped the country between 2022 and 2023. Those demonstrations ignited following the death of a young woman Mahsa Amini, who died in September 2022 in the custody of the country’s morality police after being detained for allegedly violating the hijab laws.

But the low turnout underscores the continuing decline in public engagement in elections, despite government efforts to boost participation by including a reformist candidate.

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