Reformist Pezeshkian wins Iran’s presidential runoff election

Reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian secured a victory in Iran’s runoff presidential election on Saturday, overcoming hard-liner Saeed Jalili.

Pezeshkian campaigned on promises to engage with the West and ease the enforcement of the country’s mandatory headscarf law, amid years of sanctions and widespread protests.

Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon and seasoned lawmaker, garnered 16.3 million votes to Jalili’s 13.5 million. Celebrations erupted in Tehran and other cities as his lead was announced.

“Dear people of Iran, the elections are over and this is just the beginning of our cooperation,” Pezeshkian wrote on X, a platform banned in Iran. “The difficult path ahead will not be smooth except with your companionship, empathy, and trust.”

The win comes at a critical time for Iran, with ongoing tensions in the Middle East, an advancing nuclear program, and a potential shift in U.S. foreign policy depending on the outcome of the upcoming American presidential election.

Pezeshkian’s moderate approach will be challenged by the hard-liner-dominated Iranian government and the geopolitical landscape.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei praised the election turnout despite a historically low participation rate of 49.6%. Authorities recorded 607,575 voided votes, often seen as protest votes. Khamenei encouraged Pezeshkian to put his trust in God and aim for high, bright horizons.

Pezeshkian’s diverse background, speaking Azeri, Farsi, and Kurdish, and his focus on outreach to Iran’s many ethnicities, marks him as a unique figure. He represents the first president from western Iran in decades, an area known for its ethnic and religious diversity.

The regional context is tense, with Iran having recently launched its first direct attack on Israel over the Gaza conflict and continued involvement of Iran-backed militias in regional conflicts. Additionally, Iran’s nuclear activities remain a point of international concern.

As Iran navigates this new leadership, the challenges of international relations, economic sanctions, and internal reforms will test Pezeshkian’s ability to deliver on his promises.

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