Rouhani says vote shows Iran has rejected extremism, isolation

Atta Kenare, AFP | Rouhani speaks during a televised speech in Tehran on May 20.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hailed his re-election as a choice for "engagement" with the world and a rejection of extremism after winning a resounding victory on Saturday.


Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli confirmed the election results on state television, saying Rouhani had won 23.5 million votes, or 57 percent, to the 15.8 million votes cast (38.3 percent) for hardline conservative challenger Ebrahim Raisi.

Rouhani said the vote showed that Iranians had chosen the "path of engagement" with the rest of the world.

"The message of our people has been very clearly expressed. The Iranian people have chosen the path of engagement with the world, away from extremism," he said on state TV.

"The Iranian people want to live in peace and in friendship with the rest of the world, but will not accept any threat or humiliation," Rouhani added.

In an apparent reference to regional rival Saudi Arabia, which is currently hosting US President Donald Trump, Rouhani cautioned against becoming dependent on foreign allies.

"Our people have declared to neighbouring countries and the whole region that the path to ensuring security is the reinforcement of democracy and not relying on foreign powers."

Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric, had framed the election as a choice between greater civil liberties for Iranians on the one hand and a shift towards "extremism" on the other.

Conservative cleric Raisi, 56, had positioned himself as a defender of the poor and called for a much tougher line with the West. But his revolutionary rhetoric and efforts to win over working class voters with promises of increased handouts gained limited traction.

Sanam Shantyaei reports from Tehran

"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, in comments to AFP.

"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 said.

Rouhani's central achievement during his first term was a 2015 nuclear deal signed with six powers led by the United States that eased crippling economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

>>FRANCE 24's special report: Inside an Iranian nuclear research reactor

He gained a reprieve this week when the Trump administration agreed to continue waiving sanctions on Iran, keeping the nuclear deal on track for now.

But the election comes at a tense moment in relations with the United States, with Trump still threatening to abandon the accord and visiting Iran's bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia this weekend.

In response to Rouhani's victory, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged him to dismantle Tehran's "network of terrorism" and end ballistic missile testing.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Paris would be vigilant in ensuring the provisions of the nuclear deal were followed but also urged closer cooperation between France and Iran on economic, cultural and scientific matters.

'Era of extremism is over'

Although Rouhani has been deeply entrenched in Iran's security establishment since the early days of the revolution, he has emerged as the standard-bearer for reformists after their movement was decimated in the wake of the mass "Green Revolution" protests in 2009.

"We've entered this election to tell those practising violence and extremism that your era is over," he said during the campaign.

At recent rallies, his supporters chanted the names of the reformist leaders who have been under house arrest since 2011 for their part in the protests.

International affairs researcher Foad Izadi of Tehran University said Rouhani may now have the leverage to push for more freedoms, despite opposition from the conservative-dominated judiciary and security services.

"A number of years have passed (since the 2009 protests) and the country is demonstrating a high level of stability – this gives the system confidence, which means more room for change," Izadi said.

But the beleaguered Iranian economy remains a primary challenge. Although Rouhani brought inflation down from around 40 percent when he took office in 2013, prices are still rising at 9 percent a year.

Oil sales have rebounded since the nuclear deal took effect in January last year but growth in the rest of the economy has been limited, leaving unemployment at 12.5 percent overall and at almost 30 percent among young people.

>> Read more: France and Iran's turbulent diplomatic history

"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.

Last month the powerful Guardian Council excluded all but six candidates for the election, which nevertheless still offered a stark choice between moderate reformists and hardliners.

Two dropped out to back both Raisi and Rouhani while the remaining candidates – reformist Mostafa Hashemitaba and conservative Mostafa Mirsalim – won only a marginal percentage of the votes.

Economy tops list of Iranian voter concerns

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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