Moderate cleric Hassan Rohani won Iran's presidential election on Saturday, the interior ministry said, scoring a surprising landslide victory over conservative hardliners without the need of a second round run-off. Rohani won 50.70% of the ballots with 18,613,329 votes.
Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar announced on state television that Rohani secured just over 50% of the ballot based on a 72% turnout of 50 million eligible voters. "Mr Hassan Rohani ... got the absolute majority of votes and was elected as president," Najjar said.
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Commenting on his new role, Rohani said “it is a victory of intelligence, moderation and progress over extremism.” He further added, "a new opportunity has been created ... for those who truly respect democracy, interaction and free dialogue."
Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, a conservative candidate who had been running far behind in second place, conceded defeat.
Qalibaf came in behind Rohani with 6,077,292 votes. Saeed Jalili won 4,168,946 votes, and independent Mohsen Rezaei 3,884,412 votes. Ali-Akbar Velayati and independent Mohammad Gharazi ranked at the bottom of the list, with 2,268,753 and 446,015 votes, respectively.
A total of 1,245,409 ballots were declared invalid.
Jubilant Iranians took to the streets to celebrate Rohani's victory.
"Long live Rohani," tens of thousands of supporters chanted as security officials made no attempt to rein in crowds - joyous and even a bit bewildered by the scope of his victory with more than three times the votes of his nearest rival.
"They counted my vote, they counted my vote," some supporters sang in reference to the protest slogan of four years ago: "Where is my vote?"
On social media, many supported quickly posted images mixing the Green Movement colors with the signature purple of Rowhani's campaign with the boast: "We won!"
Some cried: "Ahmadinejad, bye bye."
Rohani was the lone moderate candidate in the race supported by reformists in a race that once appeared solidly in the hands of Tehran's ruling clerics.
Rohani's conservative and hard-line opponents were far behind the moderate Rohani who has vowed to follow a policy of detente and interaction with the outside world.
Ahmadinejad's successor? Rohani casts ballot (Photo: AFP)
More than 50.5 million Iranians were eligible to vote to elect a successor to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was constitutionally barred from standing again after serving two consecutive terms.
Celebrations in Iran (Photo: AP)
The outcome will not soon transform Iran's long tense relations with the West, call into question its disputed pursuit of nuclear power or lessen its support of Syria's president in the civil war there - matters of national security that remain the domain of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But the president runs the economy and wields important influence in decision-making and Rohani's meteoric rise could offer latitude for a thaw in Iran's foreign relations and more social freedoms at home after eight years of confrontation and repression under hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was legally barred from seeking a third consecutive term.
Celebrating in Tehran (Photo: EPA)
Though an establishment figure, Rohani is a former chief nuclear negotiator known for his nuanced, conciliatory approach. He has pledged to promote a policy of "constructive interaction with the world" and to enact a domestic "civil rights charter".
Rohani's wide margin revealed a broad reservoir of pro-reform sentiment with many voters, undaunted by restrictions on candidate choice and campaign rallies, seizing the chance to repudiate the dominant hardline elite over Iran's economic woes, international isolation and crackdowns on social freedoms.
Female fan club (Photo: AP)
In an apparent move to convey political continuity to both domestic opponents and Western adversaries, Khamenei said that whatever the result of Friday's election, it would be a vote of confidence in the 34-year-old Islamic Republic.
"A vote for any of these candidates is a vote for the Islamic Republic and a vote of confidence in the system," the top Shiite cleric's official Twitter account said.
Iran's rial strengthened about 4 percent against the US dollar on Saturday after partial vote tallies pointed to a resounding Rohani victory, web sites tracking the currency said.
Celebratory crowds assembled near Rohani's headquarters in downtown Tehran a few hours before his victory was confirmed.
"Long live reform, long live Rohani," a reporter at the scene quoted the crowds as chanting.
"Ahmadi, bye bye," the crowds chanted in a reference to Ahmadinejad, another witness there told Reuters.
At the last presidential election in 2009, the jubilation of crowds sensing a reformist victory in Tehran turned to shock and anger after results showed Ahmadinejad had won, a result opposition leaders said was rigged. Security forces crushed the protests and authorities insisted the result was fair.
Iranian authorities and the candidates themselves, including Rohani, discouraged large street rallies this time round to forestall any possible flare-up of violent instability in the sprawling OPEC member state of 75 million people.
Rohani's nearest rival was conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a long way behind with less than 16%. Other hardline candidates close to Khamenei, including current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, scored even lower.
'Strong patriot, tough, but fair'
British former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who dealt with Rohani during nuclear negotiations between 2003 and 2005, called him a "very experienced diplomat and politician".
"What this huge vote of confidence in Doctor Rohani appears to show is a hunger by the Iranian people to break away from the arid and self-defeating approach of the past and for more constructive relations with the West," he said before Rohani's victory was declared.
"On a personal level I found him warm and engaging. He is a strong Iranian patriot and he was tough, but fair to deal with and always on top of his brief."
Suzanne Maloney, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, speaking before the interior ministry announcement, said Iran "appears to be on the verge of shocking the world".
Rohani's campaign was endorsed by pragmatic former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani after the latter was barred from running by a state vetting body - out of concern, analysts said, that he could prove too potent a rival to Khamenei.
Rohani received another big lift when reformists led by ex-president Mohammad Khatami swung behind him after their own lackluster candidate Mohammad Reza Aref withdrew to help consolidate the non-conservative vote.
In contrast, several high-profile conservatives with close ties to powerful clergy and Revolutionary Guards chiefs failed to unite behind a single candidate, suffering what appeared to be a decisive split in their support base as a result.
Rohani came to prominence as Iran's nuclear negotiator in talks with Britain, France and Germany between 2003 and 2005 that Tehran Iran agree to suspend uranium enrichment-related activities, easing Western pressure on Tehran.
He left the post when Ahmadinejad came to office in 2005. Enrichment work resumed and there has been virtually no progress in intermittent talks since then. The result has been a punishing expansion of international sanctions against Tehran, seriously damaging its heavily oil-dependent economy.
Rohani would be an important bridge between hardliners around Khamenei who reject any accommodation with the West and reformers muzzled for the last four years who argue that the Islamic Republic needs to be more pragmatic in its relations with the world and modernize at home in order to survive.
Reuters, AP and AFP contributed to this report
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