Iran's top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, furiously told Washington 'the hell with you' following U.S. criticism over the openness of the Islamic Republic's presidential contest.
The vote which brought an end to the eight-year era of the combative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has taken unexpected turns in the past days as reform-minded Iranians surged behind the lone moderate left on the six-candidate ballot.
If no candidate wins an outright majority, a runoff pitting the two top finishers would take place June 21, so even a strong showing by former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani, in Friday’s voting could be overturned.
Rowhani’s backers, such as former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – who was blocked from running by Iran’s ruling system — have urged reformists and others to cast ballots and abandon plans to boycott the election in protest over years of arrests and pressure.
Iran’s security networks now appear to have blanket control, ranging from swift crackdowns on any public dissent to cybercops blocking opposition Internet websites and social media. Yet other cracks are evident.
Western sanctions over Iran’s nuclear programme have pummelled the economy by shrinking vital oil sales and leaving the country isolated from international banking systems. New US measures taking effect July 1 further target the country’s currency, the rial, which has lost half its foreign exchange value in the past year, driving prices of food and consumer goods sharply higher.
Recent comments by Khamenei were interpreted as support for current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, whose reputation is further enhanced by a battlefield injury during the 1980-88 war with then US-backed Iraq that cost him the lower part of his right leg. Khamenei, however, has not publicly endorsed a successor for Ahmadinejad, who had a spectacular falling out with the theocracy over his attempts to challenge Khamenei’s near-absolute powers.
Khamenei remained mum on his choice even as he cast his ballot early Friday. Instead, he blasted the US for its repeated criticism of Iran’s clampdowns on the opposition and the rejection of Rafsanjani and other moderate voices from the ballot.
“Recently I have heard that a US security official has said they do not accept this election,” Khamenei was quoted by state TV after casting his vote. “OK, the hell with you.”
In Washington on Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said that while the US does not think the Iranian election process is transparent, it is not discouraging the Iranian people from voting.
“We certainly encourage them to,” Psaki said. “But certainly the history here and what happened just four years ago gives all of us pause.”
After voting, Rafsanjani said he hoped the election would lead to “national unity, a requirement for success against any domestic and foreign risks.”