Iran Election Yields Surprising Outcome

Reformer Hassan Rouhani wins in what appears to be freer and fairer election than 2009.

(Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Supporters of Iranian presidential candidate Hasan Rowhani attend a celebration gathering following his victory in Tehran, Iran.

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Friday's election in Iran was surprising on multiple fronts. Perceived reformer Hassan Rouhani won a majority of the vote in the first round, clinching the presidency to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has held that position since 2005.

[WORLD REPORT: Iranian Election Centers on Ahmadinejad and Mashaei]

Iranians took to the streets in celebration during the weekend to recognize not only Rouhani's unlikely victory with 50.7 percent of the vote, but also the process itself which, unlike 2009, did not appear to be rigged by the country's ruling elites.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei likely felt pressure to give way to the majority rule due to the country's economy, crippled by international sanctions, and the series of uprisings throughout the region. Protests that began in the Arab Spring in late 2010 continue to roil in countries such as neighboring Syria and Turkey.

 

"I see it as a change in the policies and approach of the supreme leader," says Iran expert Meir Javendanfar, an instructor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. "The assumption was these elections are going to be determined by the supreme leader instead of by the vote by the Iranian people being counted."

"I was absolutely surprised, after the events of 2009," he said, while speaking on a conference call organized by the Wilson Center. Ahmadinejad won that election by 63 percent of the vote against reformer Mir-Hossein Mousavi, though many Iranian officials claim that election was fixed.

[BROWSE: Political Cartoons on Iran]

Bijan Khajehpour, a former political activist within Iran, says the Iranian people felt that they were not taken seriously by their government following the outcome of the last election.

"The biggest reason for excitement is the people feel they are back as one of the determinants of the political process in Iran," says Khajehpour, now a partner at Austria-based Atieh International. "Hence the excitement and the outburst of joy."

"We can expect Rouhani will manage the very complex relationships within Iran very differently," he says.

Rouhani will likely push for increased transparency with the Iranian nuclear program to help ease sanctions imposed by the U.S. and U.N. that include targeting investments in oil and gas.

The results of the Friday election earned some praise from the White House.

"We respect the vote of the Iranian people and congratulate them for their participation in the political process, and their courage in making their voices heard," according to a White House statement on Saturday. "[The] election took place against the backdrop of a lack of transparency, censorship of the media, Internet, and text messages, and an intimidating security environment that limited freedom of expression and assembly. However, despite these government obstacles and limitations, the Iranian people were determined to act to shape their future."

[READ: Iran, Hezbollah Support Major Reasons for Syrian Regime's Success]

The Obama Administration called on Iran for greater transparency with its nuclear program that could increase diplomatic relations with the U.S. and other western powers.

"We admire the courage of the Iranian people who went to the polls and made their voices heard in a rigidly controlled environment that sought to limit freedom of expression and assembly," said Secretary of State John Kerry according to a Saturday statement. "President-elect Rouhani pledged repeatedly during his campaign to restore and expand freedoms for all Iranians. In the months ahead, he has the opportunity to keep his promises to the Iranian people."

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