Hassan Roubani Wins Iranian Presidential Election

Hassan Rouhani, a cleric who received the backing of reform minded elements, has won the election to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President of Iran:

TEHRAN — In a striking repudiation of the ultraconservatives who wield power in Iran, voters on Saturday overwhelmingly elected a mild-mannered cleric seeking greater personal freedoms and a more conciliatory approach to the world.

Iranian state television reported that the cleric, Hassan Rowhani, 64, had more than 50 percent of the vote, enough to avoid a runoff in the race to replace the departing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose tenure was defined largely by provocation with the West and a seriously hobbled economy at home.

The hard-line conservatives aligned with the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, placed at the back of the pack of six candidates, indicating that Iranians were looking to their next president to change the tone, if not the direction of the nation, by choosing a cleric who served as the lead nuclear negotiator under an earlier reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.

During the Khatami era, Iran froze its nuclear program, eased social restrictions and promoted dialogue with the West. But this election, which electrified a nation that had lost faith in its electoral process, also served the supreme leader’s goal, instilling at least a patina of legitimacy back into the theocratic state, providing a safety valve for a public distressed by years of economic malaise and isolation, and returning a cleric to the presidency. Mr. Ahmadinejad was the first noncleric to hold the presidency, and often clashed with the religious order and its traditionalist allies.

Mr. Rowhani has also been a strong supporter of the nuclear program, and while he is expected to tone down the tough language, he also once boasted that during the period Iran had suspended enrichment, it made its greatest nuclear advances because the pressure was off.


“There will be moderation in domestic and foreign policy under Mr. Rowhani,” said Saeed Laylaz, an economist and columnist close to the reformist current of thinking.

“First we need to form a centrist and moderate government, reconcile domestic disputes, then he can make changes in our foreign policy,” said Mr. Laylaz, who, in a sign of confidence, agreed to be quoted by name

Using a key as his campaign symbol, Mr. Rowhani focused on issues important to the young, including unemployment and international isolation.

“Let’s end extremism,” Mr. Rowhani said during a campaign speech. “We have no other option than moderation.”

He criticized the much-hated morality police officers who arrest women for not having proper head scarves and coats. He called for the lifting of restrictions on the Internet. He said that “in consensus with higher officials” political prisoners would be freed.

At the time his campaign words sounded like empty promises to many potential voters, who pointed out that Mr. Rowhani did not enjoy the support of those in power.

But support from two former presidents, Mr. Khatami and Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, himself disqualified from participating, lifted Mr. Rowhani’s status, helping him to tap into the votes of millions of dissatisfied Iranians.

His appeal to the younger generation was crucial in a nation where there is an increasing divide between the millions of youths — two thirds of the 70 million population are under 35 — and the ruling hard-liners who use morality police, Internet blocking and other harsh measures to try to mold those born after the revolution.

Many Iranians were disillusioned with their system after the 2009 election, when millions took to the streets because they felt the election had been rigged to allow Mr. Ahmadinejad to return to office. The government dispatched security forces to silence the opposition and placed the leadership of the so-called Green Movement under house arrest for years.

But within the circumscribed world of Iranian politics the public looked to the vote as a chance to push back.

When Fatemeh, 58, took a seat in the women’s compartment of the Tehran subway on Saturday, she did what she always did, discreetly listening to those around her.

Now, to her surprise, Mr. Rowhani, had won.

“They were all shocked, like me,” she said. “It is unbelievable, have the people really won?”

Feeling defeated by pessimism and expecting Iran could only change for the worse, many awoke on Saturday anticipating that the conservative clerics and Revolutionary Guard Corps members who have been amassing power over the past years would alter the outcome of the vote in their favor.

More analysis from the BBC:

Although all six candidates were seen as conservatives, analysts say Mr Rouhani – a 64-year-old cleric often described as “moderate” who has held several parliamentary posts and served as chief nuclear negotiator – has been reaching out to reformists in recent days.

The surge of support for him came after Mohammad Reza Aref, the only reformist candidate in the race, announced on Tuesday that he was withdrawing on the advice of pro-reform ex-President Mohammad Khatami.

Mr Rouhani thus went into polling day with the endorsement of two ex-presidents – Mr Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was disqualified from the race by the powerful Guardian Council, a 12-member body of theologians and jurists.

One of Mr Rouhani’s main pledges was to try to ease international sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme.

Iran has been suffering economic hardship, with rising unemployment, a devalued currency and soaring inflation.

So, it appears that we can likely expect a change in tone from Iran if not a change in policy. Its worth noting, after all, that the ultimate authority in the Islamic Republic of Iran rests with the Ayatollah Khameni and those close to him. We’re unlikely to see much deviation in policy from Tehran, especially with regard to the nuclear program which Roubani supports. Nonetheless, the fact that Ahmedinejad and the venemous rhetoric toward the U.S., Israel,and the West in general will be out of the picture may actually help the diplomatic process regarding Iran’s nuclear program to move forward. Whether it will also lead to a change in attitude in Israel, where Prime Minister Netenyahu has made it clear that he doesn’t believe that Iran should be given much more time to continue with its weapons research, is another question.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. stonetools says:

    Sounds like a small step toward moderation by Iran. Hope the Obama Administration responds by immediately reaching out to him in a conciliatory manner.

  2. Barfour says:

    I know that it is very early, but does this mean that there will not be an attack on Iran by the US or any other country?

    On a lighter note, I’ve just seen someone on Twitter say that “Hasan Rowhani declared winner of Iran’s presidential vote; spelling of his name not yet settled”. I’ve seen different people spelling this name differently. Even in Doug’s post, the name is spelled two different ways.

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    The next question is whether he’ll actually be seated. My understanding is that the Council of Guardians has what’s called “approbation supervision” of the presidential election. That means that they could reject the legality of the election or the competency of the newly-elected president at their discretion.

  4. walt moffett says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    Then question is whether or he will rule. The Revolutionary Guard is still a factor.

  5. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:

    I don’t think Khamenei has the balls to push aside a guy who pulled down more than half the vote in a field of six candidates with three quarters of the population voting. It would mean the end of any pretense of democracy and naked, direct rule by the clerics.

  6. becca says:

    @Dave Schuler: Persian Spring in that event, eh?

  7. Andre Kenji says:

    It´s a delicious message using the middle finger to the ayatollahs.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    I can only assume Khamenei used Mitt Romney’s polling experts.

  9. When you’ve been in solitary confinement for years and suddenly you’re let out into the exercise yard by a new guard, you’re liable to feel pretty grateful and happy, but the truth is you’re still stuck in prison with no hope of getting out. I mean, Rowhani’s election is like Stockholm Syndrome where everyone feels happy the guy got elected and just forgot about all the miserable suffering they’ve had under the warden, in this case Khamenei. Don’t think for a minute Rowhani is calling the shots. He’s going to be the nice, pleasant front guy and compared to Ahmadinejad, he’s downright charming. At the end of the day, don’t forget who’s pulling the strings on this puppet. Check out the facts at: http://ow.ly/m4A7Z

  10. 11B40 says:


    By golly, hope has, in fact, become a strategy.

    Islam is the millstone. If your plan doesn’t include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam, you don’t have a plan. What you have is a hope.

  11. @11B40: I would only add, we’re talking about radical Islam here. I think most Muslims are perfectly fine trying to lead normal lives, but their despot leaders, crazy mullahs and terror groups that warp and pervert Islam are the real culprits. It’s like imagining if the Westboro Baptist Church ran a country and funded terrorist activities aimed at killing gays and wiping out abortion doctors through wholesale slaughter, all in the name of God.

  12. 11B40 says:

    @Change Iran Now:

    Greetings, Change:

    Sorry, but for me there is no “radical Islam”. The difference between Islam and “radical Islam” is only in the level of effort. They both read the same playbook, that Koranny thingy. And as to the demographics, I once had a Political Science Professor who asserted that only 15% of Americans had any significant involvement in politcs beyond say voting. So, I also find the “tiny minority” argument unpersuasive. Your “non-radical” Islamaniacs may be nothing more than free riders.

    What the current and former administrations have done is to grant Islam ideological sanctuary (and probably a couple other kinds). When was the last time you read or heard about Mohammed’s nine-year old opposite-sex bride in anything close to the mainstream media ???

  13. michael reynolds says:


    Thanks for that moment of genocide. It’s always good to wake up, take a deep breath, drink your coffee and realize that whatever problems you may have, at least you’re not a wanna-be Nazi determined to “eradicate” 20% of humanity.

  14. Rick Almeida says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Without the courage to do it himself.

  15. @michael reynolds: Yeah, but what is Khamenei engineered it that way by eliminating 680 candidates and giving voters a field of five nuts and one less than nutty guy in order to drive turnout and gain the appearance of a legitimate election since 2009 was such a travesty?