Rouhani Wins Decisive Victory in Iran’s Presidential Election

On Friday, May 19, Iranians re-elected Hassan Rouhani with 57 percent of the vote, easily defeating his primary opponent, Ebrahim Raisi. The election drew a high turnout, with 73.5 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. In addition to Rouhani’s victory in the presidential race, reformist candidates captured all 21 seats of Tehran’s local council, breaking the conservative majority which has prevailed for fourteen years. 

During his campaign, Rouhani stated, “The Iranian people will reject those who in the last 38 years have known nothing but being executioners and jailers,” in reference to his conservative opponents and the religious establishment of Iranian politics. Despite the victory, Rouhani is still viewed by some as powerless in the face of Iran’s entrenched Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corp and the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Mr. Rouhani now faces the challenge of delivering on the promise he made during this campaign and during his last campaign four years ago. This includes, most notably, his pledge to revitalize the Iranian economy, which, according to Paris-based journalist Arthur MacMillan is his “biggest political weakness.”  During his last term, he achieved the landmark success of the nuclear deal, but the economic successes that were meant to follow it did not materialize. Despite staggering decreases in inflation and considerable increases in growth, dissatisfaction with his economic performance, especially with regard to unemployment (currently at 12.7 percent) has been considerable. His challenge this term is to make good on his promises of economic prosperity. According to the Carnegie Endowment’s Karim Sadjadpour, “The last two decades of presidential elections have been short days of euphoria followed by long years of disillusionment.”

In response to his election, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, “What we hope – what I would hope – is that Rouhani now has a new term, and that he use that term to begin a process of dismantling Iran’s network of terrorism, dismantling its financing of the terrorist network, dismantling of the manning and the logistics and everything that they provide to these destabilizing forces that exist in this region. That’s what we hope he does. We also hope that he puts an end to [Iran’s] ballistic missile testing. We also hope that he restores the rights of Iranians to freedom of speech, to freedom of organization, so that Iranians can live the life that they deserve.”