News / Middle East

Iranians, Observers Wonder How Rowhani Was Allowed to Win

Iran's President - elect Hasan Rowhani, after speaking at a press conference, in Tehran, June 17, 2013. Iran's President - elect Hasan Rowhani, after speaking at a press conference, in Tehran, June 17, 2013.
Iran's President - elect Hasan Rowhani, after speaking at a press conference, in Tehran, June 17, 2013.
Iran's President - elect Hasan Rowhani, after speaking at a press conference, in Tehran, June 17, 2013.
When tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets to celebrate Hassan Rowhani's presidential victory last weekend, one chant stood out: "Dictator! Thank you!"

In the back of their minds, the protesters must have been asking themselves the same thing surprised Iran observers are wondering: Why would Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the "dictator" who has final say on all things in Iran, allow a relative moderate with ties to an archrival to win the presidential election?

And why, in the first election since allegations of fraud tainted the contentious 2009 vote, would the supreme leader apparently let voters determine the outcome?

The sense of disbelief over the win by Rowhani, who has close ties to Khamenei rival and former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, appeared to be widespread among celebrants.

"I'm happy they counted my vote," read one handwritten poster held by a young man in Tehran whose picture was shared on social media.

In the run-up to the June 14 election, the general consensus among Iran observers was that the Iranian establishment would oppose Rowhani and find a way to elevate one of the handful of conservative candidates to the presidency.

Hassan Rowhani

  • 64 years old
  • Elected president with slightly more than 50% of the vote
  • Member of the Expediency Discernment Council
  • Served as secretary of the Supreme National Security Council from 1989-2005
  • Member of parliament from 1980-2000
  • Member of the Assembly of Experts since 1999
  • Served as Iran's chief nuclear negotiator before Saeed Jalili
Conservatives' Failure

In hindsight, analysts say a number of factors factored into Rowhani's surprising win. Among them were the large turnout, previously undecided voters settling on Rohani, the reemergence of the opposition movement, and the establishment's fear of a repeat of the mass street protests that erupted after the 2009 poll.

A major factor, analysts suggest, was the conservatives' failure to unite behind a single candidate, which would have prevented their votes from being split among five contestants.

And political realities played a role in Rowhani's win, including crippling sanctions on the Islamic republic that some believe effectively turned the election into a referendum on Khamenei's hard-line nuclear policies.

Said Jalili, Iran's top nuclear negotiator and the most hard-line candidate in the race, found himself on the losing end of that referendum. Many Iranians said they voted against Jalili, who parroted some of Khamenei's views in his campaign and was believed to be the supreme leader's preferred choice.

Rowhani, on the other hand, promised to improve the economy while calling for moderate policies both at home and abroad. He called for an end to Iran's international isolation and linked the importance of Iran's nuclear program to people's everyday lives.

Regime Insider

The 64-year-old Rowhani is not a reformist. He is a regime insider who has held top posts in the Islamic republic. Unlike Rafsanjani, who in 2009 expressed support for the Green Opposition movement, Rowhani condemned the protests as a move by "some who had been fooled." But the endorsement of Rowhani by the reformist faction gave him a significant boost among young voters and those hungry for change.

Alireza Nader, an Iran expert at the Rand Corporation, says Khamenei was apparently willing to accept Rowhani's win because of his profile.

"After all, he is Khamenei's representative to the Supreme National Security Council," Nader says. "In addition, he was qualified by the Guardians Council, which is very telling. Rafsanjani (whose candidacy was denied) may have been too powerful for Khamenei, but Rowhani may be more pliant."

Nader says Rowhani can serve as a bridge between the establishment and the reformists and Green Movement.

"The regime is trying to heal the internal divisions within Iran and alleviate external pressure," Nader says. "Rowhani has a chance to do both, without seeking a wide-ranging transformation of the Islamic republic."

Eskandar Sadeghi Boroujerdi, a scholar and researcher of modern Iran at the University of Oxford's Queen's College, suggests that Khamenei came to the conclusion that it would have been too costly to deny Rowhani victory.

"I think, obviously, [Khamenei's office] has [opinion polls]," Boroujerdi says, "and so they have feelers, and they have these sort of things. It would have been much more costly for him [to intervene.] And I think [Khamenei is] not an idiot, he knows how much endorsing Ahmadinejad in 2009 hurt him and cost him a lot."

Last-Minute Choice

Momentum for Rowhani grew in the last days of the campaign, reportedly right up to the last moment. A Tehran-based journalist, speaking on condition of anonymity, told RFE/RL that many people did not decide to vote for Rowhani until election day. Many people, the journalist said, mobilized and encouraged others to vote for Rohani.

Speaking on June 17 at the Washington-based Stimson Center, Fatemeh Haghighatjou, a prominent former reformist lawmaker, described Rohani's victory as a "welcomed surprise" that created a "win-win situation for all."

"The supreme leader won by seeing a higher rate of participation in order to increase his legitimacy and, for the first time, he extended his call to vote to those who do not believe in the regime itself," Haghighatjou said. "The people won because their vote was counted and we are seeing postelection celebrations. The election showed the Green Movement is alive and, most importantly, the people of Iran spoke out."

Rowhani himself gave credit for this victory to the Iranian people.

During his first press conference, held June 17 in Tehran, a female reporter told him he had restored hope to Iran.

"The people brought back hope," replied a smiling Rowhani.

This article originally appeared at RFE/RL

You May Like

Germany Celebrates 25 Years of Unity

October 3 is a public holiday, marking the day in 1990 when East Germany and West Germany reunited More

Analysts: Russia's Syria Strikes Shake Regional Powers

If Moscow bolsters Assad, Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries may feel obliged to step in More

Video Innovative Nano-Tech Water Filter Prevents Disease

It can absorb contaminants like copper, bacteria, viruses and pesticides, says Askwar Hilonga, who has been successfully trying out his product in Arusha More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: David from: Iran
June 21, 2013 10:42 AM
Iranian people expect a lot from Rowhani's government. Maybe they expect a miracle to happen because they suffered sooooo much during Ahmadinejad's tenure. Not only Iranians but the world expects a significant change form Rowhani. Wish him luck
In Response

by: mehrdad from: earth
June 24, 2013 5:06 AM
There were millions of people who were disagree with Mr Rohani (and millions who were agree ) because of reasons which seemed right ,but now his movements are accepted by most of those millions ,still we should wait and see where is the end of this road. about the people and their wishes, yes they had a lot of problem which was because of the politics of the inside and outside,there were a lot of country who helped this process by making a harder life for Iranians ,

by: jack from: prc
June 21, 2013 9:00 AM
Economic reason,it also need w.bone.keep touch should soften it and it's people should think the national happiness higher than unfriendly doer.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs