DUBAI - Thousands of Iranians celebrated on the streets into
Sunday's early hours, counting on moderate president-elect Hassan Rohani to
follow through on promises of better relations abroad and more freedom at home
after routing hardliners at the polls.
A mid-ranking Shi'ite cleric,
Rohani is an Islamic Republic insider who has held senior political and military
posts since the 1979 revolution and maintained a good rapport throughout with
theocratic Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's most powerful man who
has the last word on all the big issues.
While no reformer himself,
Rohani gained the backing of politically sidelined but still popular reformist
leaders. His call for an end to the "era of extremism" won over many voters
disgruntled over economic crises and crackdowns on free speech and dissidents
that marked Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's presidency.
Rohani's surprise win
however is not expected to quickly resolve the stand-off with the West over
Iran's disputed nuclear ambitions or break its commitment to backing President
Bashar Assad in Syria's civil war.
But the new president will run the
economy of the sprawling OPEC member state of 75 million people and exert
influence when Khamenei decides on national security matters.
goes some way to repairing the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, punctured
four years ago when dozens were killed in protests after an election reformists
said was rigged, and may help pragmatic voices muzzled since then to
Thousands of young Iranians took to the streets of the capital
Tehran and other big cities as soon as the poll results were announced on
Saturday, making sure their voices and expectations of the new president were
The president-elect, known in the West as Iran's main
nuclear negotiator in 2003-05, immediately sought to build bridges on Sunday,
expressing approval of the street parties but also having talks with the
conservative speaker of parliament.
"With their celebrations last night,
the Iranian people showed they are hopeful about the future and God willing,
morals and moderation will govern the country," Rohani told state
Hardliners whose power comes from their unquestioning loyalty to
Khamenei both badly miscalculated the public mood and failed to set aside their
own factional differences and field a single candidate, analysts
Both Khamenei and the powerful hardline Islamic Revolutionary Guard
Corps that controls large swathes of the oil-dependent economy said the election
was a victory for all.
Whether Rohani succeeds in ushering in change to
Iran, or whether the next four years yield the same stalemate that marked the
1997-2005 presidency of reformist Mohammad Khatami, will hinge on his ability to
balance the demands and expectations of the people with the interests and
constraints of those who hold the pivotal instruments of power in the Islamic
ROHANI MAY HAVE ADVANTAGES OVER KHATAMI
Rohani's reputation as
a mediator and someone who has worked within the corridors of power should be an
advantage that Khatami, who was director of the national library before he
became president, never enjoyed.
"Rohani is the ultimate regime insider.
In contrast to Khatami, who held no governmental position when he was catapulted
into the presidency, Rohani has never been out of power or Khamenei's good
graces," said Ali Vaez, Iran analyst at the International Crisis
"Also, Rohani is a centrist politician, with a unique
bridge-building ability. He is unlikely to alienate competing power centres, who
can stymie his reforms," he said.
A big test will be whether Rohani
pushes for the release from house arrest of Mirhossein Mousavi and Mehdi
Karoubi, two reformist leaders held under house arrest since 2011. That demand
was a constant chant of Rohani supporters at his campaign rallies and on the
streets of Tehran and elsewhere overnight.
"This will in my view be the
first real test of how sincere this election has been. Then we will know the
calibre of Mr Rohani," said Ali Ansari, professor at St Andrew's University in
"Much depends on the political will of the fractured elite and
the willingness of Khamenei to pull back. There is some anxiety that the powers
that be, having got their 'popular election', will now settle back into their
comfort zones." Despite similarities between Khatami and Rohani's upset election
victories, political realities "are fundamentally different", said Yasmin Alem,
a U.S.-based Iran expert.
"The supreme leader is more powerful, the
Revolutionary Guards are more influential, and the conservatives are more in
control. However, Rohani is a crafty statesman and stands a better chance ... of
navigating Iran's political minefield." Rohani has a tough task ahead of him
dealing with Iran's myriad domestic and foreign policy problems, she
"Iranian voters should demonstrate the same maturity and patience
they did at the polls, if they want to avoid the disillusionment that followed
Khatami's presidency." Rohani himself called for patience soon after his win was
announced on Saturday. "The country's problems won't be solved overnight and
this needs to happen gradually and with consultation with experts," he told the
state news agency IRNA.
But Rohani, whose conciliatory style contrasts
with the confrontational populism of Ahmadinejad, said there was a new chance
"in the international arena for ... those who truly respect democracy and
cooperation and free negotiation".
Post-election revellers were
optimistic. "I am hopeful about the future, hopeful that we will have more
social freedoms, more stability in Iran, better relations with other countries
and hopefully a much better economy," said Hoda, 26, from Tehran.
as chanting "Long live Rohani!" and wishing good riddance to the current
president with "Ahmadi, bye bye!", jubilant crowds did not shy from feting
Mousavi, the reformist leader defeated in the election four years
"Mousavi, Mousavi, congratulations on your victory!" the crowds
Pictures and videos of the celebrations showed more people
wearing the green colours of Mousavi's 2009 campaign than Rohani's purple.
Police stood by and even shared jokes with some people in the
Others had an ironic take on the "death to dictator" chants of
the huge 2009 protests at which security forces opened fire, shouting "thank you
dictator" for allowing a fair vote now.
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