Tehran, Iran – Hasan Rowhani, the candidate favored by Iranian reformists, won the Iranian presidential elections in a landslide, a source with close connections to the Iranian government said Saturday.
Rowhani, Iran’s former negotiator in nuclear talks with the international community, won 21 million votes, 51 per cent of the ballots, well ahead of runner-up Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, who won 13 million votes, the source said.
Finishing third was Saeed Jalili, the Iranian government’s current negotiator with the United States and five other countries, the source said. The source could not be identified by name because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
Press TV, a state television network, reported that 80 per cent of the 50 million plus eligible voters, had cast ballots in the contest Friday.
Pre-election polls had indicated that Rowhani, a moderate conservative cleric with wide appeal among the younger generation, might come in first, with Qalibaf, the popular mayor of Tehran, expected to come in second. But most analysts here had not expected him to win a majority outright in the Friday balloting.
Rowhani developed a wide lead from the first results.
Many Iranians had said they’d boycott the voting out of disaffection with the political system. But that disaffection apparently did not hold, as the government twice extended voting hours, first to 8 p.m. and then to 11 p.m. The 80 per cent turnout was unusually high, and the counting took longer than the four to five hours initially estimated. Voting was by paper ballot and each was hand-counted.
As he cast his ballot Friday, Supreme Leader Khamenei rejected U.S. criticism of the election as not being democratic. U.S. Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman had said last week in an interview with Radio Free Europe that the election “is not, by international standards, free, fair or credible.” She noted that the decision on who could run was made by the Guardians Council, which reports to Khamenei.
“You do not recognize our election? Go to hell!” Khamenei said in apparent response. “Iranians have never cared for the enemy’s remarks.”
Iran’s political rivalries were in evidence to the end. The supreme leader voted when the polls opened at 8 a.m. and urged the nation to cast ballots by noon. Outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was once Khamenei’s favored politician but sparred with him over political, diplomatic and theological issues at the end, delivered a final riposte by waiting until 5:30 p.m. to vote.
Turnout varied at four polling stations a McClatchy reporter visited Friday morning, with queues stretching out the door at one location – where Iranian state television was doing live broadcasts – and no queues at all in two other locations, one of them the Azam mosque in north-central Tehran.
A second visit to Azam, shortly before it closed at 11 p.m., brought a different picture – a turnout of 4,000, which supervisor Behrang Dolati said was double the number of the 2009 elections. He said most were young people, who’d arrived with their families in late afternoon.
There are no voter registration rolls, and Iranians may vote anywhere in the country.
To protect against fraud, voters must bring their birth certificates, which have additional election pages filled with boxes, one of which an election official stamps, numbers and signs.
At the last election four years ago, when reformist candidate Mir Hossain Mousavi appeared the sure winner, the Interior Ministry reduced his vote and declared that Ahmadinejad had won, leading to nationwide demonstrations, a severe crackdown by security forces and Mousavi being arrested. He’s still under house arrest, along with fellow reformer Mahdi Karroubi.
How the Interior Ministry intends to regain credibility for the voting process this year wasn’t yet clear.
The head of election oversight at one location, who declined to give his name because he was uncertain whether he was authorized to talk to a reporter, told McClatchy: “I don’t know what will happen to the results after we transmit them to the Ministry of the Interior, but here, I guarantee the protection of the vote.”
Voters and non-voters alike expressed despair about the economic and political situation, with one exception, a supporter of Jalili, the nuclear negotiator who was the leading hard-liner in the contest.
“I like Jalili because he’s tough,” said Nuri, 29, who’s a university employee. He wouldn’t give his full name for fear of adverse consequences, like many interviewed about the election. “Let the tension (with the international community) continue,” he said. “We don’t care. The sanctions are good for us. We’re having to develop our own economy.”
Ali Ahmadi, 70, a pensioner who’s seen the buying power of his meager monthly income drop by three-quarters because of a currency devaluation, said he, too, would vote for Jalili, “Because I think he will take care of poor people.”
A passer-by overheard some of the conversation. He called out: “They’re all crooks. I (defecate) on Jalili’s father’s grave.”
At Darband, in north Tehran, just below the Alborz mountains, young couples were out strolling, others were on their mountain bikes and elections seemed the farthest thing from their minds. “Whoever is elected, I wish them happiness. I have never voted,” said Hamid, 29, a university teacher. He said he was told that he should vote, but he wouldn’t. But if he did, it would be for Rowhani.
Neda, 27, agreed. “No one of them is eligible, in my mind. Four years ago, I voted for Mousavi, and hoped he could make some changes. You see what happened.”
“People my age are hopeless and cynical about the future,” she added. Many of her friends had left Iran for other countries, and she’s hoping to go to Australia, she said.