An unprecedented number of Iranians at home and abroad participated in the 11th presidential elections in the Islamic Republic. In a striking repudiation of the ultraconservatives who wield power in Iran, voters overwhelmingly elected a mild-mannered cleric who advocates greater personal freedoms and a more conciliatory approach to the world. Hassan Rouhani, 64, won a commanding 51% of the vote in the six-way race. This punishing of hardliners at the polls indicated that Iranians were looking to their next president to change the tone, if not the direction, of the nation. Mr. Rouhani used a key as his campaign symbol, and focused on issues important to the youth, including unemployment. His message was one of outreach, responsiveness, and inclusion. While Rouhani is considered a relative moderate and had the backing of Iranian reformists, the hardline supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains the ultimate authority on all state matters, including the nuclear program.
“Let’s end extremism,” Mr. Rouhani said during a campaign speech. “We have no other option than moderation.” During his campaign, Rouhani criticized the much-hated morality police who arrest women for not having proper head scarves and coats. He called for the lifting of restrictions on the Internet and hinted at freeing the political prisoners. Rouhani appears to be something of a post-Islamic revolution phenomenon. He is not too distant from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His own track record as head of Iran’s National Security Council and one-time nuclear negotiator means that he knows how to engage with the outside world. His victory also symbolizes the ascendancy of the reform movement that was so violently put down after the last presidential vote four years ago.