Hassan Rouhani has become Iran’s new President, raising hopes of a new era of politics, where reformists, in political oblivion for the last eight years, would have a chance of joining the mainstream.
Iran’s Press TV is reporting that out of the 36, 704,156 votes that have been tallied, Mr. Rouhani has won a total of 18,613,329 votes, or 50.70 percent — sufficient to avoid a run-off with his nearest rival.
Ahead of the latest tally, it had become evident that conservative candidates were being routed. Saeed Jalili, the hardline conservative seen by many as the frontrunner, was in third place. Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, the hands-on Mayor of Tehran, stood in second place, way behind Mr. Rouhani.
Mr. Rouhani’s success can be attributed to the formation of a coalition with former President Mohammad Khatami’s reformers. Mr. Khatami’s role in persuading Mohammad Reza Arif, a reformist candidate, to withdraw meant that centrists and reformists could unite behind Mr. Rouhani, significantly bolstering his chances.
Besides, Mr. Rouhani ran a skilful campaign, which included the use of purple colour coding — Mr. Rouhani’s supporters tied ribbons and wore purple wristbands — that seemed to have gone down well with the youth. Psychologically, Mr. Rouhani’s innovative campaign faintly connected with change brought about by colour coded revolutions in Eastern Europe.
Though hardly a radical, Mr. Rouhani had gone out of his way to seek support of women, through his strong message of gender equality. In a campaign video aired over state television, Mr. Rouhani had said: “In my government, differences between women and men won’t be tolerated.” His message of greater media freedom and call for social dignity by stopping harassment by “plainclothes people” — a reference to the paramilitary Basij militia — also seemed to have gone down well with the young electorate, aspiring for greater self-expression and a big turnaround in the economy.
As President, Mr. Rouhani would be truly tested by the popular demand for the improvement of the economy. That is a tall order because the problems of the economy are intertwined with sanctions and the lack of progress on the nuclear dialogue with the West. Structurally, the new President would be able to do little, as the core security and foreign policy issues, including the nuclear dialogue, are handled by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Yet, the greater atmosphere of openness that Mr. Rouhani has promised could unlock a burst of youthful energy, triggering demands for an institutional revamp.
Analysts point out that if elected, Mr. Rouhani could bridge the gap between the conservatives and reformists, who became embittered foes after the crackdown on protesters following the controversial 2009 elections.