Reformist Underdog Claims Victory in Iranian Presidential Election

Reformist Underdog Claims Victory in Iranian Presidential Election

Reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian has claimed a surprising victory in Iran’s presidential election, securing 53.6% of the votes in Friday’s runoff. Pezeshkian, who garnered 16.3 million votes out of the 30.5 million cast, will serve a four-year term as the Islamic Republic’s first reformist president since 2005. In his victory speech, Pezeshkian extended a message of unity, stating, “We will extend the hand of friendship to everyone. We are all people of this country and should utilize everyone’s efforts for the nation’s progress.”

Pezeshkian’s win marks a significant shift in Iran’s political landscape, as he defeated hardline candidate Saeed Jalili, who received 44.3% of the votes with 13.5 million ballots cast in his favor. The election saw nearly half of Iran’s eligible voters, 49.8%, participating in the runoff. Pezeshkian’s victory was unexpected, given his status as a “second-tier candidate” and a “token reformist” on the ballot. However, he managed to secure the most votes in the first round of voting, advancing to the runoff after no candidate achieved a majority.

Pezeshkian, 69, has a long history in Iranian politics, having served as the country’s minister of health from 1997 to 2005 during former President Mohammad Khatami’s administration. Khatami was Iran’s last reformist president. Pezeshkian has also been a member of the Iranian Parliament since 2008, most recently serving as its vice speaker. He is a member of the Islamic Consultive Assembly and advocates for loosening Iran’s strict policies.

One of Pezeshkian’s key campaign promises was to relax the enforcement of Iran’s hijab law, which requires women to wear a hijab in public. He also expressed a desire to improve relations with Western nations, including the United States, and to potentially restart nuclear talks with global powers. Pezeshkian’s victory comes at a time of significant political and social challenges in Iran, with many citizens expressing frustration with the status quo.

Pezeshkian’s predecessor, former President Ebrahim Raisi, died in a helicopter crash in a mountainous border region on May 19. Raisi’s death left a power vacuum that Pezeshkian has now filled, bringing a reformist agenda to the forefront of Iranian politics.

The reformist movement in Iran has faced significant challenges in recent years. In an op-ed published by the Iranian newspaper Shargh, Tehran University professor and pro-reform analyst Sadegh Zibakalam compared Iran’s reformists to a patient in need of a respirator to stay alive until the presidential election. Zibakalam argued that the failures of former President Hassan Rouhani’s government and the tenth parliament (2016-2020) caused the reformists to lose both their social base and public trust.

Rouhani, who was re-elected in 2017, struggled to fulfill his commitments to improve the economy and expand individual freedoms. His legitimacy was largely tied to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the anticipated economic boom, but those hopes were dashed when former U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear accord and reimposed sanctions. Rouhani’s abilities as president were also limited by hardliners, led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

The reformist movement’s struggles were further highlighted by the low voter turnout in the February parliamentary elections, which resulted in a victory for hardliners. This outcome was seen as a sign of the reformist faction’s decline, as it failed to build a strategic discourse and practical plan for real and popular reforms.

As the presidential election approached, the reformist camp faced internal disputes over the best election strategy. Some advocated for boycotting the elections, while others suggested running independent candidates or supporting a moderate conservative candidate. The Guardian Council, a vetting body, disqualified many candidates who identified with the reformist faction, raising doubts about the likelihood of reformist candidates passing the vetting stage.

Despite these challenges, Pezeshkian’s victory demonstrates that the reformist movement still has significant support among the Iranian populace. His win may signal a shift in the political landscape, as he aims to address the nation’s economic and social grievances and improve relations with the international community.

Pezeshkian’s success also highlights the unpredictability of Iranian elections. While the reformist movement has faced significant obstacles, Pezeshkian’s victory shows that there is still potential for change within the political system. As he takes office, Pezeshkian will need to navigate the complex dynamics of Iranian politics and work to fulfill his campaign promises.

The coming months will be crucial for Pezeshkian and the reformist movement as they seek to implement their agenda and address the challenges facing the nation. With a new president at the helm, Iran may see a shift towards more progressive policies and improved relations with the international community.

Source: UPI, Reuters

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