June 18 (UPI) -- Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged residents to vote in nationwide elections Friday, but many expect hard-line front-runner Ebrahim Raisi to cruise to victory, replacing Hassan Rouhani.
Raisi, 60, a close ally of Khamenei who serves as head of the judiciary, lost the 2017 election to Rouhani. This time, Iranian election officials barred many who believed would be Raisi's stiffest competition, essentially clearing the field for him to win.
Raisi, linked to serious human rights abuses, is expected to win 64% of the vote, according to the latest national poll Wednesday released by the Iranian Students' Polling Agency.
"Today, people are in charge," Khamenei told state-supported Press TV said after casting his vote. "Even one single vote counts. No one should say 'What will my one vote do?' These one votes become millions when combined."
Rouhani also pushed Iranians to vote Friday, pointing to international attention surrounding the election.
"People should be mindful that the whole world is today focused on the ballot boxes and the people's queues to cast their world. God willing, we will act in a way that it will make our friends across the world happy and frustrate enemies," Rouhani told Press TV.
Activists including the National Council of Resistance of Iran were calling the election a sham and urging a boycott.
Maryam Rajavi, president-elect of the NCRI, described the boycott of the election as a political and social blow to Khamenei and the ruling theocracy.
The People's Mojahedin Organization of Iran (PMOI/MEK) announced sparse turnout.
Raisi was deputy Tehran prosecutor during the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners. He served on the "death committee," which interrogated prisoners about their religious beliefs and political affiliations and sent thousands to their deaths, often after trials lasting a few minutes.
The U.S. Treasury has also linked Raisi to a crackdown on Iran's Green Movement protests in 2009. The election comes as Iran faces the COVID-19 pandemic, an economy that has been shackled by crushing sanctions from the United States and a decision on whether to rejoin the nuclear deal with the United States and other countries.