Moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani has been elected the next president of Iran. Official figures give him 52.5% of the vote, more than three times his nearest rival, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf (Google Translate renders his surname as “carpets”), who finished on 17.1%. There was a close contest for third place, but Saeed Jalili emerged in front with 11.8%.
Turnout was less than the interior ministry originally estimated, but a still very healthy 72.7%. Rouhani’s tally stayed remarkably consistent throughout the count, suggesting that his support extends across the whole country (see last night’s commentary here). Reports this morning describe big celebrations in Tehran and other cities.
The BBC says that the winner needed a majority of the total vote, not just the valid vote, to avoid a runoff. That’s the first I’ve heard of that, and not being able to read Persian I can’t confirm it, but if so it makes things closer; there were more than a million informal votes, so Rouhani had only 50.7% of the grand total. Still, that’s a quarter of a million votes to spare, so the question is now academic.
The stage is now set for a fascinating replay of the contest between supreme leader Ali Khamenei and the previous reformist president, Mohammad Khatami. Khamenei won most of their battles, and he still holds most of the key cards. But with the violent uprising that followed the 2009 election still a vivid memory, Khamenei will want to tread warily.
Rouhani is not as overt a reformist as Khatami was, but his campaign was dominated by reformist themes. He is also more of a foreign affairs specialist than Khatami, having served as his national security adviser, which is likely to lead him into territory that Khamenei clearly regards as his prerogative. It also means that, even more than Khatami, Rouhani will need and could benefit from an appropriate degree of western sympathy and support.
Khamenei will be 74 next month, so he may have less stomach for a fight than he did 16 years ago. The always thoughtful Juan Cole puts it like this:
Either the Leader feels that he has sufficient control of the country to risk a mildly reformist candidate like Hasan Rouhani winning, or the turmoil the country faced in 2009 chastened him and he decided to let the public blow off steam by giving him a president he isn’t entirely happy with.
It’s going to be an interesting four years.