Iranians demanding change deliver emphatic victory for Rouhani

News Hour:

Iranians yearning for more freedom at home and less isolation abroad have emphatically re-elected President Hassan Rouhani, throwing down a challenge to the conservative clergy that still holds ultimate sway.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani-Fazli declared Rouhani’s victory on Saturday on state TV, citing figures giving Rouhani about 57 percent of the vote in Friday’s election, compared to 38 percent for his main rival, hardline judge Ebrahim Raisi.

Although the powers of the elected president are limited by those of unelected Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who outranks him, the scale of Rouhani’s victory gives the pro-reform camp a strong mandate to seek the sort of change that hardliners have thwarted for decades.

Rouhani’s opponent Raisi, a protege of Khamenei, had united the conservative faction and had been tipped as a potential successor to the 77-year-old supreme leader. His defeat leaves the conservatives without an obvious flag bearer.

The re-election is likely to safeguard the nuclear agreement Rouhani’s government reached with global powers in 2015, under which most international sanctions have been lifted in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program.

And it delivers a setback to the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC), the powerful security force which controls a vast industrial empire in Iran. They had thrown their support behind Raisi to safeguard their interests.

“We won. We did what we should do for our country. Now it is Rouhani’s turn to keep his promises,” said coffee shop owner Arash Geranmayeh, 29, reached by telephone in Tehran.

But Rouhani, 68, faces the same restrictions on his ability to transform Iran that prevented him from delivering substantial social change in his first term, and that thwarted reform efforts by one of his two-term predecessors, Mohammad Khatami.

The supreme leader has veto power over all policies and ultimate control of the security forces. Rouhani has been unable to secure the release of reformist leaders from house arrest. Courts have imposed a ban on the publication of the words — or even images — of the earlier reformist president, Khatami.

“The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment,” said Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who focuses on Iran.

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