Saturday, May 20, 2017

Iran: Hassan Rouhani set for landslide in huge victory for reformists

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is to claim re-election with a landslide victory, in a ringing endorsement of his efforts to re-engage with the West and offer greater freedoms at home.
With a huge turnout, polling stations stayed open until midnight in parts of the country, defying worries that moderates disillusioned by the weak economy or slow pace of change would not vote.

Preliminary results from Iran’s interior ministry suggested Rouhani would return to power with a bigger mandate than he had after his original 2013 win, driven by a boldly reformist campaign.
Iran’s interior ministry said Rouhani was ahead, with 22.8 million votes to his conservative rival Ebrahim Raisi’s 15.5 million, with almost all votes counted. The government said over 40 million people voted, out of 56 million who were eligible. Officials plan to announce exact voter turnout later today. “Hope prevailed over isolation,” former president and key Rouhani ally Mohammad Khatami posted on Instagram, along with a photo of Rouhani making a victory sign, Reuters reported. Iran’s state television congratulated Rouhani on re-election. 

The foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said: “We derive stability not from ‘coalitions’, but from our people, who – unlike many – do vote. Iranians must be respected and are ready to engage.”
The incumbent saw off a strong challenge from Raisi, a fellow cleric with radically different politics, who stirred up populist concerns about the sluggish economy, lambasted Rouhani for seeking foreign investment and appealed to religious conservatives. He had gathered momentum as conservatives keen to win back control of the government coalesced behind Raisi’s initially lacklustre campaign.

In Iran’s unique and uneasy hybrid of democracy and theocracy, the president has significant power to shape government, although he is is ultimately constrained by the supreme leader. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, a hardliner thought to favour Raisi in the election and as a possible successor for his own job, generally steers clear of day to day politics but exerts ultimate control over Iran through control of powerful bodies from the judiciary to the revolutionary guards corp. Despite losing the overall race, Raisi appeared to have won enough votes to preserve his political future, allowing him to campaign for office again or justify his promotion in unelected bodies. Rouhani, who had received 18.6m votes in 2013, is projected to receive well above 20m this time. Former reformist president, Khatami, one of Iran’s most popular and influential politicians, received 20m (69.6%) in 1997…