July 19, 2024

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Masoud Pezeshkian wins Iran presidential runoff

Masoud Pezeshkian wins Iran presidential runoff

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Reformist candidate Masoud Bezeshkian Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won the runoff of Iran’s presidential election on Saturday, defeating hardliner Saeed Jalili on promises to reach out to the West and ease the country’s mandatory hijab law after years of sanctions and protests that have strained the Islamic Republic.

Pezeshkian campaigned on a promise not to make any radical changes to Iran’s Shiite theocracy, and he has long viewed Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as the ultimate arbiter of state in the country. But even Pezeshkian’s modest goals will be challenged by an Iranian government that remains largely in the grip of hardliners who hold power in Iran. The war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Stripand Western concerns about Tehran Enriching uranium to levels close to weapons grade With enough stockpiles to produce several nuclear weapons if it so chose.

Vote counts provided by the authorities showed Pezeshkian winning 16.3 million votes to Jalili’s 13.5 million in Friday’s election. In all, Iran’s interior ministry said 30 million people voted in an election conducted without internationally recognized monitors, representing a turnout of 49.6 percent — higher than in previous elections. Record low in first round of voting on June 28 But it is lower than other presidential races.

Supporters of Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon and veteran lawmaker, took to the streets of Tehran and other cities before dawn to celebrate as his advance grew. Jalili, the former hardline nuclear negotiatorLater, Pezeshkian traveled to the mausoleum of the late Grand Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, and spoke to reporters at a chaotic event.

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“In this election, I did not make false promises to you and I did not lie. It has been many years since the revolution that we have been going up to the stage and making promises and failing to fulfill them. This is the biggest problem we face,” Bezeshkian said.

More than 50 countries head to the polls in 2024

But Pezeshkian’s win still puts Iran at a sensitive moment, with tensions rising in the Middle East and a looming US election that could jeopardize any chance of rapprochement between Tehran and Washington. Pezeshkian’s win was also not a landslide defeat for Jalili, meaning he will have to navigate Iran’s domestic politics carefully, as the doctor has never held a high-profile, sensitive security position before.

Government officials even Khamenei The supreme leader had predicted a high turnout as voting began, with state television showing modest lines at some polling stations. However, online videos showed some polling stations empty while a survey of dozens of locations in Tehran saw light traffic and a heavy security presence on the streets.

Authorities counted 607,575 invalid votes – often a sign of protest by those who feel obligated to cast their ballots but reject both candidates.

Khamenei praised Saturday’s turnout despite what he claimed was a boycott campaign “organized by the enemies of the Iranian nation to create despair and a sense of hopelessness.”

Khamenei added: “I advise President-elect Dr. Pezeshkian to put his trust in God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, and direct his vision toward high and bright horizons.”

Voters expressed cautious optimism.

A woman casts her ballot in the presidential election at a polling station near the shrine of Saint Saleh in northern Tehran, Iran, Friday, July 5, 2024. Iran held a runoff presidential election on Friday pitting a hardline former nuclear negotiator against a reformist lawmaker. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

“I don’t expect anything from him — I’m happy that the vote has managed to rein in the hardliners,” said Fatemeh Babaei, a bank employee who voted for Bezeshkian. “I hope Bezeshkian can bring the administration back to the way that all people feel there is a bright future.”

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Taher Khalili, an Iranian of Kurdish origin who runs a small tailoring shop in Tehran, offered another reason for optimism as he handed out sweets to passersby.

“Finally, someone from my hometown and western Iran has come to power. I hope he will make the economy better for small businesses,” Khalili said.

Pezeshkian, who speaks Azeri, Persian and Kurdish, has been making a point of reaching out to Iran’s diverse ethnic groups in his campaign. He is the first president from western Iran in decades — something people hope will help the country, where people in the western part are seen as more tolerant because of their region’s ethnic and religious diversity.

The elections came amid rising regional tensions. In April, Iran launches its first direct attack on Israel At the same time, militias armed by Tehran — such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels — continue to escalate fighting in the region, stepping up their attacks.

While Khamenei remains the ultimate decision-maker in state affairs, Pezeshkian could tilt the country’s foreign policy toward either confrontation or cooperation with the West.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose relations with Iran have reached a state of harmony, sent his congratulations to Bezeshkian, stressing his “keenness to develop and deepen the relations that unite our two countries and peoples.” Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has relied on Iranian-made drones in his war on Ukraine, also congratulated Bezeshkian.

In response to questions from The Associated Press, the State Department called the Iranian elections “neither free nor fair” and noted that “a large number of Iranians chose not to participate at all.”


Iranian presidential candidate Saeed Jalili, a hardline former nuclear negotiator, casts his vote in the runoff round of the presidential election at a polling station in Qarchak near Tehran, Iran, Friday, July 5, 2024. (AP Photo)

The US State Department added: “We have no expectations that this election will lead to a fundamental change in Iran’s direction or greater respect for the human rights of its citizens. As the candidates themselves have said, Iranian policy is determined by the Supreme Leader.”

However, she said she would continue diplomacy “when it serves American interests.”

The candidates have repeatedly broached what would happen if former President Donald Trump, who unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal in 2018, wins the November election. Iran has held indirect talks with President Joe Biden’s administration, though there has been no clear move to reimpose restrictions on Tehran’s nuclear program in order to lift economic sanctions.

Pezeshkian’s win saw the Iranian rial surge against the U.S. dollar on Saturday, trading at 603,000 to the dollar, down from 615,000 on Thursday. The rial was trading at 32,000 to the dollar when the nuclear deal was reached in 2015.

Despite his sympathy for reformists and relative moderates within Iran’s clerical regime during the campaign, Pezeshkian has also honored Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard Corps, wearing its uniform at one event in parliament. He has also repeatedly criticized the United States and praised the Guard for shooting down an American drone in 2019, saying it “punched the Americans in the mouth hard and proved to them that our country will not surrender.”

Former President Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash in May He provoked early elections, and was seen as one of Khamenei’s guards and a possible successor as supreme leader.

However, many know him for his involvement in Iran’s mass executions in 1988, and his role in the bloody crackdowns on dissent that followed protests over Khamenei’s death in 2022. Mahsa Amini, a young woman arrested by the police Due to allegations of improperly wearing the mandatory head covering or hijab.


Vahdat reported from Tehran, Iran. Nasser Karimi in Tehran contributed to this report.