Iran re-elects moderate leader to second term by wide margin
TEHRAN, IRAN >> Iran’s moderate President Hassan Rouhani trounced a hard-line challenger to secure re-election Saturday, saying his country seeks peace and friendship as it pursues a “path of coexistence and interaction with the world.” Friday’s election was widely seen as a referendum on the 68-year-old cleric’s push for greater freedom at home and outreach to the wider world, which culminated in the completion of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal that hard-liners initially opposed.
The nuclear deal won Iran relief from international sanctions in exchange for limits on its contested nuclear program. But Iran suffers from high unemployment and a dearth of foreign investment, putting pressure on Rouhani to show he can do more to turn the sluggish economy around. Rouhani highlighted his desire for further outreach — and with it, the prospect of creating jobs through outside investment — in his victory speech.
“Today, Iran — prouder than ever — is ready to promote its relations with the world based on mutual respect and national interests,” he said in a televised address, flanked by photos of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and his predecessor, the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran’s 1979 revolution.
Iran “is not ready to accept humiliation and threat,” he continued. “This is the most important message that our nation expects to be heard by all — particularly world powers.” Rouhani secured a commanding 57 percent of the vote in a race that drew more than seven out of every 10 voters to the polls. His nearest rival in the four-man race, hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, won 38 percent of the vote, according to official tallies that covered more than 99 percent of votes cast. Although considered a moderate by Iranian standards, Rouhani was the favorite pick for those seeking more liberal reforms in the conservative Islamic Republic.
He appeared to embrace a more reform-minded role during the campaign as he openly criticized hard-liners and Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force involved in the war in Syria and the fight against the Islamic State group in neighboring Iraq.
Many female drivers held out the V for victory sign and flashed their car lights on highways to celebrate the win in Tehran’s affluent north.
“I feel that I did a huge thing. I voted for my country’s future,” said one, 32-year-old Sarah Hassanpour, who wore a loosely fitting headscarf covering only the back of her head. “I am so happy, because there will be no war and insecurity.”