Centrist candidate Hassan Rouhani won Iran’s presidential election Saturday after campaigning on a “hope and prudence” platform that appealed to both traditional conservative and reform-minded voters.
Official results showed Rouhani with 18.6 million votes, or 50.7% of the 36,704,156 votes tallied. The rest of the votes were divided among five other candidates.
“This victory is the victory of wisdom, moderation, growth and awareness, the victory of commitment and religiosity over extremism and ill tempers,” Rouhani said.
The government reported a high voter turnout Saturday, with nearly 73% of some 50 million registered voters casting ballots.
Rouhani has acquired a reputation for shunning extreme positions and bridging differences. He campaigned for reforms without threatening Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – Iran’s supreme leader since 1989. Khamenei has plenty of support, from conservative citizens, loyalist militia groups and the powerful Revolutionary Guard.
A former national security chief, Rouhani promised greater personal freedoms, indicated he would free political prisoners and jailed journalists, and said he would reduce tension between Iran and the outside world by addressing sanctions related to the nation’s nuclear program.
During the campaign, Rouhani accused state-run media of censorship and publishing lies during an interview on live state television. His comments seemed to invigorate what appeared to be a lackluster campaign season with little public interest.
Rouhani is a senior cleric, former commander of Iranian air defenses and is an intellectual with three law degrees, including one from a university in Scotland. He has long been a member of Iran’s ruling establishment.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his congratulations to Rouhani and called on Iran to take a “constructive role in regional and international affairs.”
In Washington, a White House spokesman said it hopes “the Iranian government will heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices that create a better future for all Iranians,” and added “The United States remains ready to engage the Iranian government directly in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.”
In Syria, an opposition coalition in the two-year civil war voiced hope Rouhani would end Iran’s support of President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
“The Syrian Coalition also hopes that Iran recognizes the Syrian people’s plight for free elections, rights and freedoms and that it halts all support to the oppressive Assad regime,” a spokesman for the group said.
Four years ago, the Iranian presidential election sparked widespread protests over election fraud, and the police and the Basij, a feared paramitary group, cracked down on the opposition.
Human rights groups reported many jailed protesters were tortured and killed while the government crushed the uprising. Image/CNN