The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, has been re-elected in a landslide victory, endorsing his efforts to re-engage with the west and offer greater freedoms at home.
With a huge turnout, polling stations stayed open until midnight in parts of the country, defying concerns that moderates disillusioned by the weak economy or slow pace of change would not vote.
Iran’s interior minister, Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli, announced live on state television that Rouhani received 23,549,616 votes (57%), compared with his conservative rival Ebrahim Raisi, who won 15,786,449 votes (38.5%).
More than 41.2 million people voted out of 56 million who were eligible to do so. The two other lesser known candidates, Mostafa Aqa-Mirsalim and Mostafa Hashemi-Taba, got 478,215 and 215,450 votes respectively.
“Hope prevailed over isolation,” the former president and key Rouhani ally Mohammad Khatami posted on Instagram, along with a photo of Rouhani making a victory sign, Reuters reported. Iran’s state television congratulated Rouhani on his re-election.
The foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said: “We derive stability not from ‘coalitions’, but from our people, who – unlike many – do vote. Iranians must be respected and are ready to engage.”
The incumbent saw off a strong challenge from Raisi, a fellow cleric with radically different politics who stirred up populist concerns about the sluggish economy, lambasted Rouhani for seeking foreign investment and appealed to religious conservatives.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, issued a statement addressed to the Iranian people in which he praised the “massive and epic” turnout.
“The winner of the elections is you, the Iranian people, and the Islamic establishment, which has managed to win the increasing trust of this big nation despite the enemies’ plot and effort,” he wrote.
Khamenei did not congratulate Rouhani directly in the statement, in contrast to his similar statement in 2013.
Trita Parsi, of the National Iranian American council, said the results showed Iranians had chosen “a path of gradual transformation through peaceful participation”.
“President Rouhani’s convincing win is a sharp rebuke to Iran’s unelected institutions that were a significant brake on progress during his first term,” he said. “It is also a rebuke of Washington hawks who openly called for either a boycott of the vote, or for the hardline candidate Ebrahim Raisi to win in order to hasten a confrontation.”
He said it was now time for Rouhani to deliver on the promises that inspired people to vote him back in.
“He must take decisive action to protect the human rights and civil liberties of the Iranian people, pursue improved relations with the world, and promote economic growth for the Iranian people. The hardline forces behind Iran’s arbitrary arrests and spiking executions may not answer to Rouhani directly, but the Iranian people who elected him expect him to do more in his second term to bring about change.”
In Iran’s unique and uneasy hybrid of democracy and theocracy, the president has significant power to shape government, although he is is ultimately constrained by the supreme leader.
Khamenei, a hardliner thought to have favoured Raisi in the election and as a possible successor for his own job, generally steers clear of daily politics but controls powerful bodies from the judiciary to the Revolutionary Guards.
Despite losing the overall race, Raisi appeared to have won enough votes to allow him to campaign for office again or justify his promotion in unelected bodies.
“The election’s victor is clear, kudos to our rivals,” tweeted the editor of Mashregh News, which supported Raisi in the elections. Other well-connected media personalities close to Raisi also conceded.
Rouhani’s campaign headquarters said there was no plan to hold a celebratory rally. Iranians are usually quick to celebrate such victories, mainly by honking car horns or dancing in streets or distributing sweets.
The scale of voter turnout was the highest for many years.The governor of the northern province of Gilan was quoted as saying the turnout there was 80%. In Yazd, the home city of former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, there was 91% participation.
Fear of a Raisi presidency prompted many in Iran to vote. In Tehran, even political prisoners such as the prominent human rights lawyer Narges Mohammadi, cast their votes inside the notorious Evin prison. And the double Oscar-winning film director Asghar Farhadi voted in Cannes while participating at the festival.
Rouhani’s victory will be welcomed by Iranian reformists as well as the country’s opposition green movement.
Opposition leaders under house arrest, Mir Hossein Mousavi, his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi, had urged people to vote for Rouhani. The president changed his tone on the campaign trail in order to appeal to the opposition. “Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein” was a ubiquitous slogan chanted by Rouhani fans in almost every place he campaigned in the three weeks before the vote. The Guardian