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Calling for better ties with West, Iran reformist wins presidency

By AFP - Jul 06,2024 - Last updated at Jul 06,2024

Newly-elected Iranian President Masoud Pezeshkian gestures during a visit to the shrine of the Islamic Republic's founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in Tehran on Saturday (AFP photo)

TEHRAN — Iran's reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian, who advocates improved ties with the West, on Saturday won a run-off presidential election against ultraconservative Saeed Jalili, the interior ministry said.

The election came against a backdrop of heightened regional tensions because of the Gaza war, a dispute with the West over Iran's nuclear programme, and domestic discontent over the state of Iran's sanctions-hit economy.

Pezeshkian received more than 16 million votes, around 54 per cent, and Jalili more than 13 million, roughly 44 per cent, out of about 30 million votes cast, electoral authority spokesman Mohsen Eslami said.

Turnout was 49.8 per cent, Eslami added, up from a record low of about 40 per cent in the first round.

In the mausoleum of Imam Khomeini in southern Tehran, Pezeshkian gave a speech thanking his supporters, saying their votes have "given hope to a society plunged into an atmosphere of dissatisfaction".

"I did not give false promises in this election," said Pezeshkian, flanked by former foreign minister Javad Zarid. 

"I didn't say anything that I wouldn't be able to do tomorrow."

In an earlier post on X, Pezeshkian said the vote was the start of a "partnership" with Iran's people.

The death of ultraconservative president Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash necessitated the election, which was not due until 2025.

Under Raisi, Iran sought improved relations with China and Russia while mending ties with Arab neighbours, chiefly Saudi Arabia, to avert deeper isolation.

Saudi Arabia led Gulf states in congratulating Pezeshkian. Both Russia and China expressed hopes for further reinforcement of ties.


Nuclear deal 


Pezeshkian is a 69-year-old heart surgeon whose only previous government experience was as health minister about two decades ago.

He has called for "constructive relations" with Western countries to "get Iran out of its isolation". 

He favours reviving the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and global powers.

Washington unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018, reimposing sanctions and leading Iran to gradually reduce commitment to its terms. The deal aimed to curb nuclear activity which Tehran maintains is for peaceful purposes.

Iran’s foe the United States on Monday said it would make no difference whether Pezeshkian or Jalili won.

State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said there was no expectation the vote would “lead to a fundamental change in Iran’s direction” or improvement in human rights.

There were no obvious celebrations in Tehran on Saturday after the final results were announced, but state TV showed large crowds waving the Iranian flag in the north-western city of Tabriz, which Pezeshkian had represented in parliament since 2008.

In Tehran, some Iranians hailed the outcome.

“We are very happy that Mr Pezeshkian won,” said Abolfazl, a 40-year-old architect who gave only his first name.

“I expected him to become the president because we really needed a well-educated president to solve the economic problems of the people.” 

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all major policy issues, congratulated Pezeshkian.

He urged him to “continue the path of Martyr Raisi and use the country’s many capacities, especially the revolutionary and faithful youth, for the comfort of the people and the progress of the country”.

Khamenei accused “enemies of the Iranian nation” of being behind a “scheme of boycotting the elections”.

After more than one million ballots were spoiled in the first round, the figure in the runoff was more than 600,000, according to figures provided by Eslami.


 ‘Conservative dominance’ 


The vote came with some Iranians having lost faith in the system, according to analysts.

“I don’t have any feelings” about Pezeshkian’s win, said Donya, a 53-year-old babysitter who doesn’t know “whether the situation is going to get better or worse”.

Donya, who gave only her first name, added: “I didn’t vote and I don’t have any feeling for Mr Pezeshkian or anyone else.”

All candidates were approved by Iran’s Guardian Council and Pezeshkian was the lone reformist allowed to stand.

Political expert Ali Vaez, from the International Crisis Group think tank, said on X that Pezeshkian will face challenges in implementing his platform because of “continued conservative dominance of other state institutions & limits of presidential authority”.

Jalili, 58, an Iranian nuclear negotiator until 2013, is known for his uncompromising anti-West stance. After his defeat he urged his supporters to help Pezeshkian in his new role.

Hassan Rouhani, a moderate in office until Raisi’s victory in 2021, congratulated Pezeshkian on his win.

Rouhani said voters had shown “they want a serious change in the state of governance in the country”.

They had voted “for constructive interaction with the world” and for revival of the nuclear deal, he added.

Pezeshkian vowed to ease long-standing internet restrictions and to “fully” oppose police patrols enforcing the mandatory headscarf for women, a high-profile issue since the death in police custody in 2022 of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old Iranian Kurd had been detained for an alleged breach of the dress code, and her death sparked months of nationwide unrest.

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