Iran was on the brink of an extraordinary political transformation on Saturday night after the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani sensationally secured enough votes to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani’s victory delighted reformers who have been desperate for a return to the forefront of politics after eight acrimonious years under Ahmadinejad.
It will also lift the spirit of a nation suffering from its worst financial crisis for at least two decades as a result of the sanctions imposed by western powers in the dispute over its nuclear programme.
Rouhani, who favours a policy of political openness, as well as re-establishing relations with the west, is likely to soothe international tension. He has been described by western officials as an “experienced diplomat and politician” and “fair to deal with”.
Iran’s interior minister, Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar, announced on state television on Saturday night that 72% of 50 million eligible Iranians had voted, and Rohani had won just over the 50% of the vote required to avoid a runoff.
Rouhani, a PhD graduate from Glasgow Caledonian University and a former nuclear negotiator, has pledged to find a way out of the current stalemate over Iran’s nuclear programme, which is the cause of the sanctions crushing the economy.
Minutes after he was announced as the winner, thousands of jubilant campaigners and people across Iran poured into streets to celebrate. “Ahmadi Bye Bye”, chanted a large group in central Tehran, according to witnesses, in a reference to Ahmadinejad. Car horns were honking in larger streets in Tehran and Rouhani supporters chanted.
The Iranian currency, the rial, recovered in value against the dollar by at least 6% on Saturday. Later on Saturday night, Rouhani issued a statement on television, saying “a new season of solidarity” had begun following a result that brought “rationality and moderation” as well as “peace, stability and hope”…
The turnout for Friday’s vote was so high that polling stations stayed open for five hours longer than planned.
Speaking after casting his vote in Tehran, Khamenei had urged a mass turnout to rebut suggestions by American officials that the election enjoyed little legitimacy.
“I recently heard that someone at the US national security council said, ‘We do not accept this election in Iran’,” he said. “We don’t give a damn.”
All of the papier-mâché lovers of democracy from the UK to the US, from Cameron to Obama, have lined up to give advice. The best thing they could do – for a change – is keep their sticky fingers out of the pot of oil and natural gas that belongs to Iran and shut up for a change.
All prior blather about negotiating in good faith with Iran never came to pass. Just election-speak. Fact remains that even under the strictures of the Iranian theocracy, the turnout for the election was greater than anything Uncle Sugar has turned out in decades. A multi-party, multi-choice election unlike anything allowed in the United States.