Reformist Sweeps Iran's Presidential Election

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
June 15 2013 1:00 PM

Iran Presidential Election Surprise: Reformist Candidate Wins Vote by Wide Margin

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Iranian moderate presidential candidate, Hassan Rouhani flashes the sign of victory as he leaves a polling station after voting on Friday

Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP/Getty Images

UPDATE: Initial tallies were accurate. Moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani easily won Iran's presidential election with a little more than 50 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a run-off, reports Reuters. In all, 72 percent of Iran's 50 million eligible voters turned out to vote.

Original post: It seemed like everyone was willing to bet that one of the hardline candidates would easily win Iran’s presidential election. Turns out, conventional wisdom may have been way off. Reformist-backed candidate Hassan Rouhani, the only cleric but the most moderate of the six running for president, had more than 50 percent of the 27.5 million votes counted. That was far ahead of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf with less than 16 percent, according to the BBC tally. If Rouhani finishes with more than 50 percent he would win in the first round and avoid a run off that was scheduled to be held next Friday. An expert tells the Washington Post that a runoff is highly likely. But even so, if Rouhani manages to win a clear plurality of the vote it would still mark a surprising defeat and repudiation of the conservatives that have ruled Iran for the past eight years.

Rouhani’s early lead suggests there is a high degree of reformist sentiment bubbling underneath the surface in Iran, points out Reuters. The big lead obtained by the former nuclear negotiator, along with early figures that estimate a high turnout of 75 percent, suggests liberals abandoned a planned boycott and backed Rouhani en masse. But even if Rouhani were to win in the first round “it would be more of a limited victory than a deep shake-up,” as the Associated Press puts it. Issues of national security, such as the country’s nuclear program, are controlled by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. But it could mark a change from the confrontational style of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and a Rouhani victory may just usher in “an age of moderation in the next four years,” according to the BBC’s Mohsen Asgari.

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While careful to say they’d have to wait until the final tally for an assessment, Iran watchers could not hide their surprise at how much support reformers had managed to mobilize despite the government's restrictions on campaigning. “Everyone’s assumption was they would not be able to create a wave of voters in the society,” one expert tells the New York Times. “This outcome was not something planned by Ayatollah Khamenei.” British former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called it “a remarkable and welcome result so far,” adding that he was “keeping my fingers crossed that there will be no jiggery-pokery with the final result.” Months of unrest followed Iran’s 2009 elections amid widespread claims of fraud.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.