Rivals acknowledge Iran election victor

Ultraconservative tipped to win as Iran elects president

But the election of an Iranian head of government now under United States sanctions could alarm Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts of Iranian politics said, especially given President Joe Biden's sharpened focus on human rights globally.

For an overwhelmingly young population chafing at political restrictions, the lack of choice at the ballot box means a vote serves little goal, analysts of Iranian politics say.

Iran's Guardian Council, the constitutional watchdog tasked with approving candidates, allowed only Raisi and six other lesser-known Khamenei loyalists to run in the election, barring hundreds of other presidential hopefuls, including several politicians who have prominent public profiles comparable to Raisi's. The disqualifications sparked a weekslong campaign by Khamenei's Iranian critics inside and outside the country to encourage a boycott of what they described as a sham election.

Congratulations poured in for ultraconservative Ebrahim Raisi Saturday on winning Iran's presidential election as his rivals conceded even before official results were announced.

It would continue to push to extend Shia Islam and project power in the region with the help of the Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) - a major armed, political and economic force in Iran - and its local proxies.

Khamenei on Wednesday urged Iranians to turn out and vote, but record numbers of people are expected to boycott the polls due to anger over worsening economic hardship and frustration with hardline rule. More than 59 million Iranians are eligible to vote. "They organise the elections for the media". Washington has sanctioned Raisi for alleged involvement in Iran's mass executions of political prisoners in the late 1980s.

Regardless of who wins, Khamenei remains Iran's ultimate decision-maker in matters of foreign and nuclear policy.

A win for Raisi would confirm the political demise of pragmatist politicians like Rouhani, weakened by the USA decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.

Raisi says he backs Iran's talks with major powers to revive the nuclear deal, under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions. But high hopes for greater prosperity were crushed in 2018 when then-US president Donald Trump withdrew from the accord and launched a "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran. Biden has said a mutual US and Iranian return to JCPOA compliance would be a precursor to a USA effort to negotiate a stronger and longer agreement addressing other issues.

In a televised speech, outgoing President Hassan Rouhani congratulated "the people's elected (president)", without naming him.

"But because Iran's foreign policy, especially relating to the USA, is the exclusive domain of Khamenei, whoever becomes the next president is likely to follow the same long-established rules", Rezaei said. Khamenei served as Iranian president himself before being appointed supreme leader in 1989.

Asked in 2018 and again a year ago about the executions, Raisi denied playing a role, even as he lauded an order he said was handed down by the Islamic republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini to proceed with the purge.