Hassan Rouhani wins a second term in Iran’s election

The president gets 57 per cent of the vote to defeat right-wing candidate Ebrahim Raisi. At 70 per cent, turnout was unexpectedly high.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Incumbent Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been re-elected.  

Speaking on state TV Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmanifazli said that “Of some 41.2 million total votes cast, Rouhani got 23.5 . . . and won the election”. His right-wing rival Ebrahim Raisi got 15.8 million votes.

Voting time was extended by five hours, until midnight, amid an unexpectedly high turnout of about 70 per cent. Election officials said the extensions to voting hours were due to "requests" and the "enthusiastic participation of people".

More than 40 million out of 56 million registered voters put up with long queues. Many voters were particularly determined to block Raisi’s rise since he was one of four judges who sentenced thousands of political prisoners to death in the 1980s.

Reformers regard Raisi as a symbol of the security state at its worst. The “prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote," said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

"Rouhani's vote, particularly in rural areas, shows that Iranian people no longer believe in economic populism and radical change," said Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group think tank. 

"They have the maturity to understand that the solution to their country's predicaments are in competent management of the economy and moderation in international relations," he added.

International affairs researcher Foad Izadi, of Tehran University, said Rouhani may now have the leverage to push for more freedoms. Since the “country is demonstrating a high level of stability -- this gives the system confidence, which means more room for change”.

Still, Rouhani has to deal with the limits of his post. In fact, in his first mandate, he was unable to secure the release of reformist leaders under house arrest.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has veto power over all policies and ultimate control of the security forces.

Likewise, the economy remains Rouhani’s Achilles heel. Despite bringing down inflation since coming to power in 2013, prices are still rising at 9 per cent a year. Unemployment is high at 12.5 per cent, and almost 30 per cent among young people.

"We are still not pleased with the situation, but in the four years of Rouhani there has been a relative improvement and I'm voting to keep that," said Alireza Nikpour, a 40-year-old photographer in Tehran, as he queued to cast his ballot on Friday.

Rouhani’s victory comes however at a tense moment in Iran’s relations with the United States with US President Donald Trump starting a visit to Iran's bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia.