15 Jun 2013

Rouhani claims victory in Iranian presidential election

Moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani has claimed an outright victory in Iran’s presidential election, the country’s interior minister announces.

Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar told state television that 72 per cent of the 50 million eligible Iranians had turned out to vote, and that Rohani had secured just over the 50 percent of the vote needed to avoid a run-off.

The outcome of the election is unlikely to radically alter relations between Iran and the world or lead to a shift in the Islamic Republic’s policy on its disputed nuclear programme – security issues that are decided by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

But the president does have an important voice in decision-making in the Shi’ite Muslim country of 75 million and could bring a change from the confrontational style of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.

Rouhani’s nearest rival was conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a long way behind with 16.56 per cent of the vote. Other hardline candidates close to Khamenei scored even lower.

Conciliatory approach

Rouhani, a moderate who is a former chief nuclear negotiator known for his conciliatory approach, has indicated he would promote foreign policy based on “constructive interaction with the world” and enact a “civil rights charter” at home.

In an apparent attempt to signal political continuity, Khamenei said on Saturday that whatever the result of Friday’s election, it would be a vote of confidence in the 34-year-old Islamic Republic.

“A vote for any of these candidates is a vote for the Islamic Republic and a vote of confidence in the system,” the hardline clerical leader’s official Twitter account said.

Rouhani’s campaign was endorsed by centrist former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani after the latter, was barred from running by a state vetting body.

He received a big further boost when reformists led by ex-president Mohammad Khatami swung behind him after their own lacklustre candidate Mohammad Reza Aref withdrew in his favour.

Decisive split

In contrast, several high-profile conservatives with close ties to the ruling clerical or Revolutionary Guards elite failed to unite behind a single candidate, suffering what appeared to be a decisive split in their support base as a result.

Voting was extended by several hours at polling stations across the country on Friday as millions turned out to cast their ballot in the first presidential race since the 2009 contest where allegations of fraud led to mass unrest.

Channel 4 News Presenter, Jon Snow, observes the jubilant scenes in Tehran, following Hassan Rouhani’s electoral victory.

There are miles of traffic jams tonight as middle class Iranians converge on North Tehran. The air is alive with honking horns. There are people hanging out of car windows. It seems like a brief moment when the breaks are off in this highly policed society.

In the square I was in, large groups of police stood back watching proceedings but not intervening.

One woman called out to me: “We are very happy”. The clerical establishment is trying to downplay both the reformist instincts of the new president and the extent of his powers, but for tonight at least, there is hope in the air.