Hassan Rouhani wins second term as Iranian president
TEHRAN // President Hassan Rouhani praised Iranians for choosing “engagement with the world” and rejecting extremism after winning a resounding election victory on Saturday.
Mr Rouhani won 23.5 million votes – 57 per cent – compared to 15.8 million – 38.3 per cent – for hardline challenger Ebrahim Raisi.
In an address to the nation, Mr Rouhani told Iranians they had “said no to those who wanted to take Iran backward or cease its current course.” To the international community, he said that while the people wanted “engagement with the world away from extremism and violence,” they were not “prepared to live with threats and sanctions.”
Mr Rouhani’s victory followed a huge 73 per cent turnout on Friday which forced authorities to extend polling by several hours.
“I congratulate the great victory of the Iranian nation in creating a huge and memorable epic in the continuation of the path of ‘wisdom and hope’,” tweeted vice president Eshaq Jahangiri, referring to the government’s slogan.
Mr Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric who spearheaded a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, framed the election as a choice between greater civil liberties and “extremism”.
Mr Raisi, 56, had positioned himself as a defender of the poor and called for a much tougher line with the West. Despite being the favoured candidate of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, his rhetoric and efforts to win over working class voters with promises of increased benefits gained limited traction.
“Rouhani’s vote, particularly in rural areas, shows that Iranian people no longer believe in economic populism and radical change,” said Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group, a think tank.
“They have the maturity to understand that the solution to their country’s predicaments are in competent management of the economy and moderation in international relations.”
Mr Rouhani’s central first-term achievement was a deal with six powers led by the United States that eased crippling economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme.
He gained a reprieve this week when Washington agreed to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions, keeping the deal on track for now.
The election came at a tense moment in relations with the US, with president Donald Trump threatening to abandon the accord and visiting Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia this weekend.
Ayatollah Khamenei urged Iranians to show unity following the “intensity of the days and weeks” leading up to the vote.
Russia, which fights alongside Iran in support of Syrian President Bashar Al Assad, was among the first to congratulate Mr Rouhani.
Vladimir Putin sent a telegram confirming “his readiness to continue active joint work... in line with maintaining stability and security in the Middle East and the world as a whole”.
Mr Al Assad also congratulated Mr Rouhani for earning “the trust the Iranian people gave him to continue bolstering Iran’s position”.
Although Mr Rouhani has been entrenched in Iran’s security establishment since the early days of the revolution, he has emerged as the standard-bearer for reformists after their movement was decimated in 2009’s mass protests.
In his victory speech Mr Rouhani praised former president Mohammad Khatami, in defiance of a ban imposed against mentioning the reformist leader or publishing his pictures.
At recent rallies, his supporters chanted the names of those leaders under house arrest since 2011 for their part in the protests.
International affairs researcher Foad Izadi, of Tehran University, said Mr Rouhani may now have the leverage to push for greater freedoms, despite opposition from the conservative-dominated judiciary and security services.
“A number of years have passed [since the 2009 protests] and the country is demonstrating a high level of stability – this gives the system confidence, which means more room for change,” Mr Izadi said.
But the economy remains the biggest challenge.
Although Mr Rouhani brought inflation down from about 40 per cent when he took office in 2013, prices are rising at nine per cent a year.
Oil sales have rebounded since the nuclear deal took effect in January last year, but growth in the rest of the economy has been limited, leaving unemployment at 12.5 per cent, and at almost 30 per cent among young people.
“We are still not pleased with the situation, but in the four years of Rouhani there has been a relative improvement and I’m voting to keep that,” said Alireza Nikpour, a 40-year-old photographer in Tehran, as he queued to cast his ballot on Friday.
Last month, the Guardian Council excluded all but six candidates for the election but still left a stark choice between moderate-reformists and hardliners.
Two dropped out to back Mr Raisi and Mr Rouhani, respectively, while the remaining candidates – reformist Mostafa Hashemitaba and conservative Mostafa Mirsalim – won a marginal percentage of the votes.
*Agence France-Presse and Bloomberg
Updated: May 20, 2017 04:00 AM