TEHRAN — Iran’s ultraconservative judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, looked certain to become the country’s next president on Saturday, after leading rivals in the presidential election — which many Iranians believed had been rigged in Mr. Raisi’s favor — conceded that he had won.
Though official results had yet to be released, Abdolnasser Hemmati, a former central bank governor who was seen as the moderate in the race, congratulated Mr. Raisi on Instagram, calling him “the 13th president of the Islamic Republic.” Another candidate, Mohsen Rezaee, a former commander in chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, also congratulated Mr. Raisi.
With huge swaths of moderate and liberal-leaning Iranians sitting out the election, saying that it had been engineered to put Mr. Raisi in office — or that voting would make little difference — he had been expected to win handily, despite late attempts by reformists to consolidate support behind Mr. Hemmati.
Mr. Raisi, 60, is a hard-line cleric favored by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and has been seen as his possible successor. He has a record of grave human rights abuses, including accusations of direct involvement in the mass execution of political opponents, and is currently under United States sanctions.
His background may snarl the renewed negotiations between the United States and Iran over restoring an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs in exchange for lifting American sanctions, though some analysts said Mr. Raisi’s reputation as a hard-liner may give him more flexibility to push through a deal with Ayatollah Khamenei’s blessing.
To his supporters, Mr. Raisi’s close identification with the ayatollah, and by extension with the Islamic revolution that brought Iran’s clerical leaders to power, was part of his appeal. Campaign posters showed Mr. Raisi’s face alongside those of Ayatollah Khamenei and his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, or that of Maj. Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the Iranian commander whose death in an American airstrike last year prompted an outpouring of grief and anger among Iranians.
But Mr. Raisi’s supporters also cited his résumé as a staunch conservative, his promises to combat corruption, which many Iranians blame as much for the country’s deep economic misery as American sanctions, and what they said was his commitment to leveling inequality among Iranians.
Voter turnout Friday appeared to have been low, despite exhortations from the supreme leader to participate and an often strident get-out-the-vote campaign: One banner brandished an image of General Suleimani’s blood-specked severed hand, still bearing his trademark deep-red ring, urging Iranians to vote “for his sake.” Another showed a bombed-out street in Syria, warning that Iran ran the risk of turning into that war-ravaged country if voters stayed home.
Voting was framed as not so much a civic duty as a show of faith in the Islamic revolution, in part because the government has long relied on high voter turnout to buttress its legitimacy.
Though never a democracy in the Western sense, Iran allowed candidates representing different factions and policy positions to run for office in a government whose direction and major policies were set by the unelected clerical leadership. During election seasons, the country buzzed with debates, competing rallies and political arguments.
Since protests broke out in 2009 over charges that the presidential election that year was rigged, however, the authorities have gradually winnowed down the confines of electoral freedom in Iran, leaving almost no choice this year. Many prominent candidates were disqualified by Iran’s Guardian Council last month, leaving Mr. Raisi the clear front-runner and disheartening moderates and liberals.
Yet analysts said that the ayatollah’s support for Mr. Raisi could give him more power to promote change than the outgoing president, Hassan Rouhani, had. Mr. Rouhani was a pragmatic centrist who ended up antagonizing the supreme leader and disappointing the voters who hoped he could open Iran’s economy to the world by striking a lasting deal with the West.
Mr. Rouhani did win a deal to lift sanctions in 2015, but ran headlong into President Donald J. Trump, who unilaterally pulled out of the agreement and reimposed sanctions in 2018.
Paradoxically, the prospects for a renewed nuclear agreement could improve now that the election is over.
Ayatollah Khamenei appeared to be stalling the current talks as the election approached, but American diplomats and Iranian analysts said that there could be movement in the weeks between Mr. Rouhani’s departure and Mr. Raisi’s ascension. A deal finalized then could leave Mr. Rouhani with the blame for any unpopular concessions and allow Mr. Raisi to claim credit for any economic improvements once sanctions are lifted.