Iran Election Results: Hassan Rouhani Wins, But Will He Bring Reform?


Moderate candidate Hassan Rouhani has been declared the winner of Iran's presidential election, beating out his closest challenger, the conservative Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, by a landslide. Eight candidates were initially approved by Iran's Guardian Council to contest the election, although two, Gholam Ali Haddad Adel and Mohammad Reza Aref, withdrew from the contest earlier this week. Iran's interior minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar announced that Rouhani has secured just over 50% of the vote, avoiding the need for a runoff. Ghalibaf won less than 16% of the vote. Najjar said 72% of Iran's 50 million eligible voters turned out to vote.

Rouhani's victory, although tempered by the knowledge that much of the power in Iran resides in Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is still a significant result for those seeking change, with one analyst labelling it a "striking repudiation of the ultraconservatives who wield power in Iran."

According to Muftah's Muhammad Sahimi, the contest pitted six conservative and ultra-conservative candidates against the moderate conservative Rouhani and the reformist Aref, with no clear front-runner. The Guardian Council had disqualified over 600 candidates from running, including former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Rouhani's campaign was boosted by the endorsement of Rafsanjani, as well as the support of the reformists led by former president Mohammad Khatami after their candidate Aref "withdrew to help consolidate the non-conservative vote." In a statement on Saturday, President-Elect Rouhani reportedly called the result "a victory for wisdom, moderation and maturity... over extremism." Ayatollah Khamenei also congratulated Rouhani on his victory and urged "everyone to help the president-elect and his colleagues in the government."

Rouhani, the only cleric running in the election, was strongly critical of departing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government, and, according to Danile Tavana's election profile, has a "long history of working with reformist leaders." In his position as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council from 1989 to 2005, Rouhani was in charge of nuclear negotiations during Khatami's presidency, during which "Iran froze its nuclear program, eased social restrictions, and promoted dialogue with the West." Former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who worked with Rouhani during nuclear negotiations, said he was "a strong Iranian patriot and he was tough, but fair to deal with and always on top of his brief."

The election was the first since the 2009 election, which gave birth to the reformist Green Movement. The announcement that Ahmadinejad had won the 2009 election was met with massive, prolonged protests against the ruling regime, with many believing that the election was rigged. In the lead up to Saturday's election, Sahimi argued that it presented an opportunity for the Green Movement to demonstrate its resilience, despite its leadership being under house arrest since February. Sahimi wrote that "the reformists and the supporters of the Green Movement demonstrated their pragmatism by agreeing to support Rouhani, rather than the true reformist...Aref." He noted that although "Rouhani is not the ideal candidate" for those wishing for change, "in the absence of Mousavi, Karroubi, Khatami, and then Rafsanjani, he is most likely to receive a large block of votes and may even win the elections." Which is exactly what he did. "The opposition," according Sahimi, "clearly recognizes that what is most important at this point in time is creating a significant social wave that brings out the people out on street to express their aspirations and frustrations with and opposition to what has been happening over the past eight years, if not earlier."

As one Twitter user commented:

So while Rouhani may not be the ideal reformist candidate and his presidency is unlikely to lead to radical change in that regard, his victory arguably represents a strong signal of popular displeasure with the status quo, given the confines of this election, and reflects the continued desire for change amongst many within Iran.