Wild celebrations broke out on Tehran streets that were battlefields four years ago as reformist-backed Hasan Rowhani capped a stunning surge to claim Iran’s presidency Saturday, throwing open the political order after relentless crackdowns by hard-liners to consolidate and safeguard their grip on power.
“Long live Rowhani,” tens of thousands of jubilant supporters chanted as security officials made no attempt to rein in crowds — joyous and even a bit bewildered by the scope of his victory with more than three times the votes of his nearest rival.
In his first statement after the results were announced, Rowhani said that “a new opportunity has been created ... for those who truly respect democracy, interaction and free dialogue.”
But in Iran, even landslides at the ballot box do not equate to policymaking influence.
All key decisions — including nuclear efforts, defense and foreign affairs — remain solidly in the hands of the ruling clerics and their powerful protectors, the Revolutionary Guard. What Rowhani’s victory does is reopen space for moderate and liberal voices that largely have been muzzled in reprisal for massive protests and clashes in 2009 over claims the vote was rigged to deny reformists the presidency.
Rowhani’s supporters also viewed the election as a rebuke of uncompromising policies that have left the Islamic Republic increasingly isolated and under biting sanctions from the West over Tehran’s nuclear program. The 64-year-old Rowhani is hardly a radical — having served in governments and in the highly sensitive role of nuclear negotiator — but he has taken a strong stance against the combative international policies of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and others.
“I’ve never been an extremist,” Rowhani said on state TV shortly after the official results were announced. “I support moderation.”
“I thank God that once again, rationality and moderation has shined on Iran,” he continued. “This is the victory of wisdom, a victory of moderation and a victory of commitment over extremism.”
His emphasis on outreach could sharply lower the political temperature between Iran and the West — including Israel — and perhaps nudge the ruling establishment toward more-flexible approaches in possible renewed nuclear talks with the U.S. and world powers.