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Moderate Rowhani Declared Winner of Iran's Presidential Elections

by Carla Babb June 15, 2013

Iran's interior minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar has declared moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani the winner of the nation's presidential election, in a surprise victory over the nation's ruling hardliners.

Rowhani, the favorite of reformists and a former chief nuclear negotiator, received close to 19 million votes out of nearly 37 million counted. He secured slightly more than 50 percent of the vote, eliminating a need for a runoff. The next closest candidate, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, trailed far behind Rowhani with more than 16 percent of the vote.

About 50 million Iranians were eligible to vote in Friday's election, putting the turnout at above 70 percent.

​​​Iranian media estimate that nearly 40 million Iranians voted in Friday's election. Officials extended voting by several hours to accommodate the large turnout.

Rowhani is slated to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term.

This is Iran's first presidential vote since Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009 spawned widespread protests and a bloody crackdown by the government.

Reformists banned from running in Iran's presidential election embraced Rowhani as their candidate, and after early vote counts, it appears the Iranian people have too.

'To be honest, I'm taking part in the elections just for one specific reason. I want to vote for Mr. Rowhani,' said Tehran voter Mahdieh who waited in a long line to cast her ballot.

Rowhani was pitted against several hardline candidates in the race to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a man internationally known for his hostility to the U.S. and Israel.

Barbara Slavin of the Atlantic Council says this change could have an important impact on Iranian foreign policy.

'The entire world is looking for someone who can come to the United Nations and give a speech that doesn't force half the audience to get up and walk out,' said Slavin.

The country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, placed strict restrictions on candidates and maintains the power to make Iran's major policy decisions.

Some analysts say that no matter which candidate ends up winning, this presidential election is undeniably influenced by the government's brutal clamp-down during the last presidential election. And the Heritage Foundation's James Phillips says that clamp-down has yet to let up.

'The regime has kind of weeded out what it considers to be the focal points for opposition and has intimidated them, driven them out of the country, put them in jail and, in some cases, tortured them,' said Phillips. 'And this has sent a really chilling message to the Iranian people.'

The United States congratulated the Iranian people for their participation in the election, with White House press secretary Jay Carney saying the Obama administration respects the vote. But Carney's statement pointed out that the election took place against what he described as 'government obstacles and limitations,' including a lack of transparency, censorship of the media and an intimidating security environment.

Carney said the U.S. hopes the Iranian government will heed its people's will and make choices that create a better future for them. He reiterated the U.S. willingness to engage Iran directly to reach a diplomatic solution to concerns over its nuclear program.

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