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Iran

Rohani's Victory Signals Desire For Change

Hassan Rohani flashes a victory sign as he leaves a polling station after voting in Tehran on June 14.
Hassan Rohani flashes a victory sign as he leaves a polling station after voting in Tehran on June 14.

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By Golnaz Esfandiari
The victory of cleric Hassan Rohani, the sole moderate in Iran's presidential vote, signals a strong desire for change among Iranians, who are facing soaring prices, unemployment, and increased social and political restrictions.

Rohani, a former top nuclear negotiator and member of the Assembly of Experts, was the only candidate in the final field of six to call for moderation.

He criticized censorship and state interference in people's private lives while promising to end radical policies and ease tensions with the international community.

Nearly 51 percent of Iran's eligible voters cast their ballots for the 64-year-old Rohani, making him the outright winner of the vote.

His election was generally welcomed abroad.

Rohani has a difficult task ahead. Iran has in the past years become more repressive, its economy is in shambles as a result of mismanagement and crippling U.S.-led sanctions, and the country faces international isolation.

READ MORE: Candidates Long On Rhetoric, Short Of Answers For Economy

Real power in the Islamic republic lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his hard-line allies -- including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) -- who have actively suppressed those fighting for change and reforms.

Hopes For Reform

Nevertheless, some Iran observers, including Karim Sadjadpour, a senior analyst with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, say Rohani could bring some limited change.

"After eight years of darkness, the clouds of extremism could soon begin to part, however slightly," Sadjadpour says, and refers to Rohani as the "default candidate" for Iranians seeking change.

  • Spontaneous celebrations broke out in Tehran after authorities said Rohani garnered 50.68 of the vote in the June 14 election.
  • Rohani flashed a victory sign as he left a polling station after casting his ballot in Tehran.
  • Thousands of Iranians poured onto the streets of the capital and other cities after the early evening announcement on June 15 that Rohani had won the vote and obviated the need for a second round.
  • Rohani supporters took to the streets to express hope for the change that the cleric and former military commander advocated during the campaign.
  • Rohani is due to replace Mahmud Ahmadinejad, seen here casting his ballot at a polling station in southern Tehran, in the presidency.
  • Rohani supporters turned out at Vanak Square in northern Tehran soon after the announcement of Rohani's victory on June 15.
  • Iranians in the capital celebrate the Rohani victory, some of them wearing the green color adopted by the opposition that emerged from the 2009 vote in which many alleged fraud.
  • Merrymakers in the capital on June 15.
  • One of the celebrants at Vanak Square in Tehran wears a mask of the president-elect.
  • Many analysts have warned that expectations might be unrealistically high for Hassan Rohani, who does not openly identify himself as a "reformer" but was supported by reform-minded political leaders.
  • A woman flashes a victory sign alongside a photo of Rohani, a former military commander and lawmaker.
  • Rohani supporters congratulate each other after the Interior Ministry announced the result. Many critics of the current leadership put their hopes in the 64-year-old Rohani, who had expressed sympathy with political forces who were defeated in the fiercely disputed 2009 election.
  • People gather under a portrait of Rohani outside his campaign headquarters after the announcement of his victory on June 15.
  • A woman displays images of pro-reform leaders who have allied themselves behind the candidacy of Hassan Rohani.
  • Celebrations along Vali Asr Street in Tehran after Rohani was declared the winner.
  • Rohani is seen behind protective glass as he greets supporters.

Alireza Nader, a senior policy analyst with the Rand Corporation, describes the June 14 vote as an attempt by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and moderate conservatives to assert their power. Some moderate conservatives have come under pressure by Khamenei and the hard-line IRGC, and Rohani is close to Rafsanjani, whose bid to enter the election race was thwarted by the Guardians Council.

"Iranians voted for the least dogmatic candidate," Nader says. "Will Rohani be able to undertake major reforms and defuse tension over the nuclear program? We'll have to see how Iran's deep state -- Khamenei, the Guards, and Basij -- react to the election."

Taking On Khamenei

Iranian journalist Akbar Ganji told RFE/RL's Radio Farda that the fulfillment of Rohani's campaign promises will, to a great extent, depend on his working relationship with Khamenei.

"We shouldn't have very high expectations. Under the current structure, he should try to manage to create some coordination with Khamenei, and also with the parliament to improve the economy," Ganji said.

"And most importantly, to open a way for talks with Western governments, particularly direct talks with the U.S., to reach a deal on the nuclear issue and removal of the sanctions because the sanctions can destroy our society."

A woman in the Iranian capital who voted for Rohani told RFE/RL the vote was a "no to extremism." She expressed hope that Rohani's presidency will improve people's lives, reduce tensions with the West, and give Iranians "breathing space."

ALSO READ: How Much Does Iran's Presidency Matter?

Another voter described the election result as a defeat for Ayatollah Khamenei, who sided with the hard-line camp. "We created a political epic but not the kind [Khamenei] asked for," the businessman, who did not want to be named, told RFE/RL. "We won, he lost," he added.

...Or Khamenei Victorious?

In Washington, Sadjadpour has a different view. "I am not so sure that Khamenei is the loser here," he says. "Voters repudiated his policies but by allowing them to do so he has helped rehabilitate his tattered reputation."

Indeed, Khamenei and other officials praised the vote and the reported turnout of more than 70 percent, describing it as a "political epic."

In a statement issued by his office, Khamenei described the vote as a "stunning test" that opened Iran's "determined and hopeful" face to the eyes of the country's enemies. He said that the vote demonstrated the "strong" ties of Iranians to the establishment.

The June 14 presidential election was the first since the disputed reelection of President Mahmud Ahmadinejad that led to massive street protests and unprecedented protest chants against Khamenei.

Some voters said that they voted for Rohani to prevent ultra-hard-line nuclear negotiator Said Jalili, thought to be Khamenei's preferred choice, from becoming president.

"In most countries people vote to bring a candidate to power. In Iran we voted to prevent a candidate from coming to power," wrote one man on social media.

Ahead of the vote, Khamenei had said that each cast ballot was a vote for the clerical establishment.

International Welcome

International responses to news of Rohani's election were cautiously encouraging.

The United States, which has had hostile relations with Iran for decades, said it "respected" the outcome and was ready for "direct" engagement to resolve allegations that Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said she was "fully committed" to working with Rohani’s government to resolve the nuclear dispute.

And United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed hope for Iran to play a "constructive role" in regional and international affairs.

Iranian rival Israel noted that Iran’s supreme leader, not the president, decides nuclear policy and called on Iran to stop its nuclear program and cease spreading terrorism.

Russian President Vladimir Putin urged Rohani to further strengthen ties with Moscow.

Quiz: How Fluent Are You In Iranian Political Jargon?

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by: Gene from: Lexington, Virginia
June 15, 2013 21:11
Is there any reason to expect reform-minded Iranians will be less disappointed by Rohani than they were by Khatami? Will Khamenei give him any more room to operate and will he be any less submissive to the Supreme Leader's will?

Here's something I wrote shortly after Khatami left office, which provides some reminders of what could easily happen again:
http://hurryupharry.org/2006/09/09/no-respect-for-khatami/

by: Ben
June 16, 2013 17:06
It`s so easy to deseive those who are glad to be deseived.The sanctions and the moving towards the red lines demand some tokya as the "moderate" PM. EU court diplomats will be happy to keep deseive their people.

by: Abu Nudnik from: Toronto
June 16, 2013 22:28
How naive. The "reform" face is the most useful face for the real power, Khamenei. And that's all. Under its cover and the supposition that Iranians want reform (true but immaterial), the race to get nukes will continue unabated and possibly with an easing of sanctions if world leaders are fooled.

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