Moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani has won Iran’s presidential election on Saturday, the interior ministry said, scoring a surprising landslide victory over conservative hardliners without the need of a second round run-off.
Interior minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar announced on state television that Rouhani secured just over 50% of the ballot based on a 72% turnout of 50 million eligible voters.
“Mr Hassan Rouhani … got the absolute majority of votes and was elected as president,” Najjar said.
Rouhani’s nearest rival was conservative Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a long way behind with less than 16%.
Other hardline candidates close to Khamenei, including current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, scored even lower.
The outcome will not soon transform Iran’s long tense relations with the West, call into question its disputed pursuit of nuclear power or lessen its support of Syria’s president in the civil war there—matters of national security that remain the domain of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But the president runs the economy and wields important influence in decision-making and Rouhani’s meteoric rise could offer latitude for a thaw in Iran’s foreign relations and more social freedoms at home after eight years of confrontation and repression under hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
Though an establishment figure, Rouhani is a former chief nuclear negotiator known for his nuanced, conciliatory approach.
He has pledged to promote a policy of “constructive interaction with the world” and to enact a domestic “civil rights charter”.
Rohani’s wide margin revealed a broad reservoir of pro-reform sentiment with many voters, undaunted by restrictions on candidate choice and campaign rallies, seizing the chance to repudiate the dominant hardline elite over Iran’s economic woes, international isolation and crackdowns on social freedoms.
In an apparent move to convey political continuity to both domestic opponents and Western adversaries, Khamenei said 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 top Shi’ite cleric’s official Twitter account said.
Iran’s rial strengthened about 4% against the US dollar on Saturday after partial vote tallies pointed to a resounding Rohani victory, web sites tracking the currency said.
Celebratory crowds assembled near Rohani’s headquarters in downtown Tehran a few hours before his victory was confirmed.
“Long live reform, long live Rohani,” a reporter at the scene quoted the crowds as chanting.
“Ahmadi, bye bye,” the crowds chanted in a reference to Ahmadinejad, another witness there told Reuters.