Moderate cleric Rohani wins Iran presidential vote
Rohani polls just over half of votes for first round landslide
Supporters in Tehran with a campaign poster for successful Iranian presidential candidate Hassan Rohani. Photograph: Mehdi Ghassemi/ISNA/Reuters
Iran’s new president, a moderate cleric known for his conciliatory nuclear talks with world powers, will take office carrying the hopes of reformists seeking less repression of social freedoms and a more pragmatic foreign policy.
Hassan Rohani is someone world powers are likely to welcome as the successor to hardline populist incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, hoping he might pursue peaceful ways out of an increasingly tense standoff over his country’s nuclear activity.
To the surprise of many, Rohani polled just over 50 per cent of the votes cast in yesterday’s election, according to the interior ministry - good enough for a landslide first-round victory over conservatives close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Rohani’s focus on rehabilitating Iran’s foreign relations and its sanctions-damaged economy and his call for a “civil rights charter” proved appealing to the significant number of Iranians keen for more political pluralism at home and an end to the Islamic Republic’s isolation abroad.
The former nuclear negotiator’s bridge-building track record secured the vote of pro-reform Iranians politically muzzled for years, but he could also work well with the wary Khamenei thanks to his impeccable background in Iran’s clerical establishment.
Khamenei’s grip faltered in 2009 when millions of Iranians took to the streets in protests - stamped out by security forces after months of deadly violence - over alleged fraud in Ahmadinejad’s first-round re-election.
Khamenei, who has the last say on over-arching state policies including security and the nuclear programme, was widely seen as wanting a loyal hardline “principlist” to win big without dispute this time around.
But US-based Iranian analyst Trita Parsi suggested Rohani’s resounding election triumph showed the evolving balance of power in Iran was more complex than many had reckoned.
“Though hardliners remain in control of key aspects of Iran’s political system, the centrists and reformists have proven that even when the cards are stacked against them, they can still prevail due to their support among the population,” Parsi wrote in an emailed commentary.
Rohani managed to win with a constituency - whose core was believed to be the urban middle class and young - who had been widely disillusioned by years of security crackdowns that stifled virtually any public dissent from Islamist orthodoxy.
Reformists led by former president Mohammad Khatami resurfaced from quiescence to endorse Rohani earlier this month after their own candidate withdrew from a field dominated by conservative Khamenei loyalists.
Rohani picked up further momentum with the endorsement of his mentor, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a veteran rival of Khamenei who was disqualified from running last month.
Rohani has pledged to draw up and implement a “civil rights charter, promote a foreign policy based on “constructive interaction with the world”, and has spoken up for the rights of women and ethnic minorities.
Rohani (64), headed the Supreme National Security Council under Rafsanjani, a relative pragmatist seen as a master of realpolitik, and under Khatami, who pursued wide-ranging social and political reforms ultimately blocked by hardliners in the dominant elite of clerics and Revolutionary Guards commanders.
He presided over talks with Britain, France and Germany that saw Iran agree in 2003 to suspend uranium enrichment-related activities, pending further negotiations on trade and diplomatic concessions to Iran ultimately undone by mutual mistrust.