Hasan Rowhani has won his election bid and will replace Mahmoud Amadinejad as president of Iran. Rowhani, a cleric backed by reformist groups within Iran, won the election with over 50% of the popular vote, thus precluding a two-man runoff, according to Iran’s Interior Ministry.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the current president of Iran, has been a profoundly controversial figure during his two terms in office. Public statements denying the Holocaust, claiming a total absence of homosexuals in Iran, demanding that Israel be “pushed into the sea” and more have drawn intense criticism from many outside Iran. His re-election to a second term in 2009 led to massive riots throughout Iran. Many believed that the election had been rigged in Ahmadinejad’s favor. Angry Iranians took to the streets of Tehran in protest.
Ahmadinejad was legally prohibited from seeking a third term, leaving the field wide open for other candidates. Rowhani, who earned the support of pro-reform groups within Iran, won by a wide margin, handily defeating his opponents, all of whom were hard-liners.
While the election of a pro-reform candidate to the presidency may seem to western observers to be a major breakthrough for the people of Iran, the reality is rather different. First and foremost, Iran is actually governed by a ruling council and the Revolutionary Guard, who share power over the country. Second, while Rowhani technically had the support of reformist groups, he really only gained it by default. Of all the candidates who were allowed to run by the ruling council, he was the most moderate. The rest were hardliners.
In other words, don’t expect Rowhani’s election to make a huge difference in the state of affairs in Iran. Nevertheless, his victory does offer pro-reform groups the chance to regain some of the ground they’ve lost in recent years.
While precise numbers are not available, reports say that roughly 36 million of Iran’s 50 million eligible voters – 72% – turned out for the election, forcing a five hour extension on poll closing times. By contrast, the voter turnout for the 2012 U.S. presidential election was 57.5%.