Last May 19th, Iranians voted for more political and individual freedoms, and bridges with the international community in the presidential elections. Iran’s incumbent President Hassan Rouhani has won a landslide victory in last Friday presidential elections. Officials results show a decisive victory, garnering the 57%of the vote for the 38% of the conservative candidate Ebrahim Raisi. The emphatic victory is a clear message, in favour of the ongoing course of reform and modernization, from the vast majority of Iranians. More than 70% of eligible voters cast their ballots, manifesting a great interest and illustrating the high stakes at play. A large number of Iranians crowding the polling stations formed such long queues that compelled election officials to extend voting time by five hours due to “requests” and “enthusiastic participation of people.” Interior Minister Abdul Reza Rahmani Fazli said referring to the turnout that “a new record was set,” and “showed increasing progress of Iranian nation.”
Although Iran’s president is not the highest-ranking official and its powers are outranked by the Supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei). Rouhani’s victory provides a huge push to the pro-reform change that hardliners have tried to halt for years. The result avoids a second round and confirms a second term for Rouhani with more than 23 million votes against the 15.7 million of the conservative cleric and widely seen as Khamenei’s (Supreme leader) preferred candidate Erasi. Despite efforts of Iran’s hardliners to grab the executive branch of power, the reformists and moderates have mobilized in historic numbers to back the promises of wisdom and peace as stated in a slogan of President Rouhani. The massive victory offers a strong mandate to carry on with a path of social and economic reforms. President Rouhani remarked via Twitter “Great people of Iran, you’re the winners of the election.” Later on Friday, he said that this election sends a clear message about “Iran living in peace and friendship with the world” and ready to promote international relations ”based on mutual respect and its national interests,” adding “we will not go back” in reference to hard-line opponents and policies.
Subsequent to the great victory, Rouhani reassured his voters “I will remain loyal to my promise to you” and “I do pray to God to be a worthy carrier of your hopes and your dreams.” In addition, the incumbent President had a clear gesture showing his gratitude towards former President Mohammed Khatami, a reformist popular figure among liberal Iranians, and remembering Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as a man of “reconstruction and progress.” Rouhani also wanted to maintain a message of unity through messages of respect towards the opposition “the elections were the scene of a democratic event in order to peacefully resolve political, cultural and other issues of conflict that we may be grappling with,” he said. ”Our people in these elections, having understood the differing viewpoints, chose their path, and everyone must respect the wishes and will of the people.” On the other hand, Ebrahim Raisi said: “I respect the outcome of the vote of the people and the result will be respected by me and all the people.” Despite the large margin, Mr. Raisi’s 15 million votes allow him to maintain status as potential successor to Ayatollah Khamenei.
Mr. Rouhani first term was marked by an international outreach as he was a key architect of the nuclear deal with world powers. And this re-election is in all likelihood the best way to safeguard the agreement from the Iranian side. Although the deal has been renewed not long ago, the complete lifting of sanctions remains the other challenge due to opposition from Trump’s administration. The sanctions are intertwined with the economic situation, however, the benefits of the deal have not translated to the real economy as expected, which has been the main battleground during the presidential campaign. Therefore, President Rouhani faces considerable challenges ahead, both internally and abroad. It is imperative that Iranian economy shows progress economically in the near future, additionally the arrival of Trump to the White House presents real obstacles for the complete lift of lingering American sanctions. Nevertheless, Rouhani has means to pressure for the fulfilment of the agreement since Iranian support to the Iraqi government is key to maintain the operations in Mosul and Raqqa against the Islamic State.
With his re-election, Rouhani also gets leverage to push for more political and individual freedoms as he has eagerly campaigned along the last weeks. He also campaigned for making all the unlocked centres of power accountable, putting pressure over the conservative- dominated judiciary and security services as the Revolutionary Guard regarding the implementation of future measures. It is still unclear how the hardliners will react since Rouhani has been critical during the campaign depicting them as “those who cut out tongues and sewed mouths shut,” and accused Raisi of “abusing religion for power.” Certainly, the most conservative groups will fight against reforms. The impact of this election is potentially enormous, as explained in a previous report the end of the rule of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may be near due to health issues. Therefore this large victory strengthens the position of Rouhani in such an event.
All in all this election is the result of a large young population of urban and moderates that mobilized in unprecedented high numbers so as to avoid another fundamentalist figure as former President Ahmadinejad. It is certainly clear the majority of Iranians prefer the moderate reformist path and the expansion of individual freedoms. This victory is also the reaction against those hardliners who jailed, tortured, and discriminated hundreds of Iranians during years. In many parts of Iran during Friday night people wore the purple coloured (Rouhani’s colour) and honked horns to celebrate not only victory but also hope for the future of Iran.