In Surprise Result, Iran Elects Moderate Presidential Candidate Hassan Rouhani

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Atta Kenare / AFP / Getty Images

Hassan Rouhani flashes the sign of victory as he leaves a polling station after voting in Tehran on June 14, 2013

The landslide election of the only moderate candidate in the Iranian presidential contest stunned the Islamic Republic’s hard-line establishment, which had taken great pains to tilt the field of candidates toward conservatives sycophantic to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. By collecting more than half of the vote in the first round of balloting, reformist cleric Hassan Rouhani was borne into Iran’s highest elective office by a broad public desire to correct the insular, right-wing trajectory of Iranian political discourse and bring the country out of the severe economic and diplomatic isolation imposed by world powers intent on Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani’s election, announced by the Interior Ministry, recalled the surprise 1997 win of Mohammad Khatami. Khatami’s victory transformed the political landscape of the theocratic state established after the 1979 revolution overthrew the U.S.-backed monarchy of Shah Reza Pahlavi. But the presidential election some celebrating Iranians had in mind on Saturday was the last one, the 2009 ballot that was widely seen as stolen from reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi, resulting in weeks of violent protests and mass arrests. Chants of “Mousavi, Mousavi, I got back your vote” and “Mousavi, Mousavi, congratulations on your victory,” were heard outside Rouhani’s campaign headquarters in downtown Tehran, according to Reuters.

(PHOTOS: Iranians Cast Vote in an Uneasy Election)

The impact on Iran’s nuclear program, and stalled negotiations intended to assuage international concerns about its intents, was far from clear. But in a field of candidates winnowed from more than 100 to just eight by a conservative clerical body known as the Guardian Council — and then reduced to six by strategic withdrawals — Rouhani was the only candidate who called for “rationality and moderation” after eight years of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the right-wing populist Khamenei twice supported in hopes of bringing the country’s elected and unelected spheres into harmony. Instead, Ahmadinejad challenged the leader during his second term, while the world at large condemned Iran both for Ahmadinejad’s reckless rhetoric — he repeatedly denied the Holocaust — and the regime’s defiant refusal to reassure the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency that its nuclear program is intended only for peaceful purposes.

“What I truly wish is for moderation to return to the country,” Rouhani told the reformist daily Sharq in a June 12 interview. “This is my only wish. Extremism pains me greatly. We have suffered many blows as a result of extremism.”

Rouhani, 64, was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator when Khatami’s government — with the assent of Khamenei — agreed to suspend uranium enrichment to reassure a worried world after the clandestine program was discovered in 2002. After enrichment resumed in 2005, he boasted that Iran had used negotiations to stall for time while installing additional centrifuges in its underground plant.

(MORE: Iran Election: Reformers Gain Momentum in Final Days of Campaign)

He campaigned on a program of ending the nuclear standoff and freeing Iran’s economy of the crippling sanctions that have cost the country billions in lost oil revenue and foreign investment, while sharply reducing the value of its currency. “I said it is good for centrifuges to operate, but it is also important that the country operates as well and the wheels of industry are turning,” Rouhani said in one television interview. The approach was at odds with the defiance preached by Khamenei’s preferred candidate, current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. Though detailed results were not immediately available, all preliminary counts had second place going to Tehran’s mayor Mohammad Qalibaf. A spokesman for Israel’s government noted in a statement that “Iran’s nuclear program has so far been determined by Khamenei, not by Iran’s President. After the elections, Iran will continue to be judged by its actions, in the nuclear sphere as well as on the issue of terror.”

Rouhani also spoke of “minimizing” the long-standing hostility between Iran and the U.S., which broke off diplomatic relations with Tehran after the takeover of its embassy there, engendering an enmity nurtured by both sides ever since. The approach is in line with reformist doctrine — Khatami reached out repeatedly to America, calling for “dialogue” — but meaningful rapprochement has been thwarted by Khamenei, who remains deeply distrustful of Washington.

(MORE: Iran’s Election: Three Battle It Out as Islamic Republic Heads to the Polls)

His own frustration in the job once led Khatami to declare that Iran’s President has less power than an average citizen. In fact, the President appoints the cabinet and provincial governors. But the elected office stands below an expansive apparatus of unelected offices and panels, topped by Khamenei, who wields direct control over the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, the national security apparatus, and even much of Iran’s economy, two-thirds of which is directly controlled by the regime.

Little in the normally opaque, complex ruling apparatus is as clear and powerful as the election result, however. After the riots and foment of 2009, Khamenei was clearly intent on restoring the credibility of the polls, and expressed satisfaction with the campaign as voting was under way on Friday. Turnout was reported in the vicinity of 70%. “In 2009 was same excitement but w/ insults; this election has no disrespect,” Khamenei’s office tweeted. “It’s valuable that we’ve progressed so much in 4 years.”

MORE: Obama-Friendly Think Tank Ponders a Nuclear-Armed Iran

90 comments
splinter48708
splinter48708

@YourAnonNews I'll believe that when I see it. If He-Whose-Name-I-Can't-Spell-nor-pronounce actually steps down without a fight, Cool

MuttonChopsRock
MuttonChopsRock

@YourAnonNews left or right of crazy. Still tends to be crazy. Buckle up y'all get ready for Iran II -Nuclear Boogaloo

cjh2nd
cjh2nd

being the most moderate candidate in iran is like being the smartest kid at the retard table. doesn't really say all that much

firmsoil
firmsoil

Hurray, with some luck this "moderate" might just allow the women to wear (only on very hot days of course!) their black potato sacks with two extra holes for ventilation!!!

branchltd
branchltd

My guess is the mullahs needed a moderate face for a diplomatic offensive to try to get some nations to drop the boycott against them so they can send more help to Syria.  The 50.X% vote was just a little too pat, not so low as to require a potentially disrupting run off but not so high as to create the appearance of a mandate should a 'new direction' be needed.  Then, it also really didn't vary over the day even though the rural areas are the most conservative ones and their vote would have been late.  

David Malek
David Malek

@Taysseer : Persians have been the victim of a primitive religion. Islam is a disease.

Grantevans
Grantevans

Correction: GC reduced candidates from more than six hundred to 8.

egret26
egret26

And Netanyahu responds with his stock pander-to- his-base warmongering rhetoric.  He has to, because more and more people in Israel are deciding he's about as useful as, say, John McCain.  Until he stops the illegal settlements, peace in the Middle East is, thanks specifically to him, not possible.  Israel needs to retire this jerk and give him the opportunity to sit on his porch and yell at kids to stay off his lawn.

HarryDangler
HarryDangler

Hey Mr. Natural, what's it all mean?  "It don't mean sh*t, as long as Ali K. is the Supreme Leader."

MustBeReallyBored
MustBeReallyBored

Move along folks, nothing to see here. All the candidates were pre selected by that old dude with the stick up is rear, so when everyone naturally votes for the moderate, Khameni knows he will still be in controll, without the messiness of the 2009 election.

New face, same BS, "our nuclear weapons program is peaceful".....

mrbomb13
mrbomb13

I'll believe that Rowhani is a 'moderate' when he does the following:

1) Eliminate all traces of Islam in the Iranian government - including the mullahs.

2) Make that same government 100% secular.

3) Eliminate all traces of Islamic influence in the governance of society (i.e. completely equal rights for women).

4) Formally renounce all comparisons of America to 'The Great Satan.'

5) Become a source of stability and reason in the Middle East.

Until then, Rowhani is nothing more than a tamer extension of the radical mullahs that still run the country like it's still the eighth century.

sonar77
sonar77

The Regime could be looking for international amelioration of its image so much needed. Wait and see his real takes over key issues.

ChangeIranNow
ChangeIranNow

I find it funny how the media are breathlessly reporting on Rowhani’s landslide win as if the Prophet himself had come down from Heaven to save the Iranian people. It is so easy to forget how he’s worked tirelessly throughout the Iran government, military and intelligence agencies. While everyone is stumbling over themselves to heap praise on the potential for a “moderate” to lead Iran, the truth will become very different and self-evident the minute Khamenei tells him to stand up and fetch something. It’s nice to see the Iranian people filled with hope. It’s the same feeling they had in 2009 when they took the streets and thought for a minute that they had a chance at real change. The truth was far harsher and crueler and liable to be a repeat in 2013. Check out the facts at: http://ow.ly/m4A7Z

Bernie_au
Bernie_au

@mirandadevine @TIME surprises me the media thinks the election would "stun" anybody, the President doesn't run the country, the mullas do !

Abdulrhman Aljamous
Abdulrhman Aljamous

Farewell Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, we’ll miss you – but not that much !

David Malek
David Malek

Moderate, huh? He was in charge of National Supreme Security Council when there was a series of government orchestrated murders killing writers/philosophers.

Fadi Adami
Fadi Adami

Well something better than nothing & any one will be much better than that fanatic Ahmadinejad. But I don,t thing there will be somersault change in the nuclear stance .

alex.reston
alex.reston

@David Malek   I  agree with you that Iranians are the victims of a very overbearing religious leadership. I don't think that you are correct or helping the situation by demonizing Islam. All three religions of Abraham have violent periods in their history. If you look at history there was a point when Muslims were the most educated "civilized" people in the world. Sadly now that is not the case. The reason for this is more situational then religious being directly linked to changes in trade routes and wealth patterns and if you attack anyone's religion you make compromise and understanding very difficult. Farooquek's shows how people react when you attack something close to their hearts.

farooquek
farooquek

@David Malek It will provide good cure for cancerous tumors like you.