Reformist Pezeshkian wins Iran’s presidential runoff election, besting hard-liner Jalili

Iran is holding a second round of presidential elections, pitting hard-liners against reformists after a record low turnout

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates: Iran held a runoff presidential election on Friday that pitted a hardline former nuclear negotiator against a reformist lawmaker. Both struggled to convince a skeptical public to vote in the first round of voting, which saw the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic.
The first results announced by Iran’s electoral authority on state television showed reformist candidate Massoud Pezeshkian slightly ahead of hard-liner Said Jalili.
Mohsen Eslami, the election spokesman, said Pezeshkiyan had 2,904,227 votes behind Jalili with 2,815,566 votes, with 5,819,911 votes counted in 13,277 polling stations. There are about 60,000 polling stations and more than 61 million eligible voters.
Government officials up to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei predicted a higher turnout as voting got underway, and state television broadcast images of modest lines at some polling stations across the country.
However, online videos reportedly show some polls empty, while a survey of several dozen locations in the capital Tehran saw light traffic amid a heavy security presence on the streets.
Polling stations were closed after midnight, after voting was extended, which has become a tradition in Iran.
Khamenei insisted that the low turnout in the June 28 first round was not a referendum on Iran’s Shia theocracy. But many remain disillusioned as Iran has been besieged for years by crushing economic sanctions, a bloody crackdown by security forces on mass protests and tensions with the West over Tehran’s advancing nuclear program that is enriching uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels.
“I want to save the country from the isolation we are stuck in, from lies and violence against women, because Iranian women do not deserve to be beaten and insulted on the street by extremists who want to destroy the country by cutting ties with the great country,” said voter Ghazal Bakhtiari. “We should have ties with America and powerful countries.”
The former negotiator Jalili and the reformist Pezeshkian are competing in the race.
Jalili had a recalcitrant reputation among Western diplomats during negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program, something that has been matched by concerns at home over his hardline views on Iran’s mandatory headscarf, or hijab. Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon, has campaigned for a relaxation of the hijab and rapprochement with the West, although he too has supported Khamenei and Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard for decades.
Pezeshkian’s supporters warn that Jalili will bring a “Taliban”-style government to Tehran, while Jalili has criticized Pezeshkian for running a campaign of fear.
Both candidates voted Friday in southern Tehran, home to many poor neighborhoods. Although Pezeshkian came first in the first round of voting on June 28, Jalili was trying to secure the votes of people who supported hard-line parliament speaker Mohammad Bagher Kalibaf, who came third and later backed the former negotiator.
Pezeshkian did not comment after the vote, walking out with former foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who brokered Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers in 2015. An angry crowd surrounded the men, shouting: “The nation’s hope is coming!”
Both Pezeshkian and Jalili are hoping to replace the 63-year-old late president Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash on May 19 that also killed the country’s foreign minister and several other officials.
Jalili voted at another polling station, surrounded by a crowd shouting: “Raisi, your journey continues!”
“Today, the whole world recognizes that it is the people who decide who will be president in the next four years,” Jalili said afterwards. “This is your right to decide which person, which way and which approach should rule the country for the next four years.”
But, as has been the case since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, women and those calling for radical change were barred from voting, while the voting itself was not monitored by internationally recognized observers. The Ministry of the Interior, responsible for the police, monitors the result.
There have been calls for a boycott, including by jailed Nobel Peace Prize winner Narges Mohammadi, although potential voters in Iran appear to have decided not to participate on their own last week because there is no widely accepted opposition movement operating inside or outside the country.
Khamenei cast one of the first votes in Friday’s election from his residence, as TV cameras and photographers caught him throwing a ballot into a box. He insisted that those who did not vote last week should not boycott the government.
“I heard that people’s enthusiasm is higher than before,” Khamenei said. God willing, people vote and choose the best candidate.
One voter, 27-year-old Jagoub Mohammadi, said he voted for Jalili in both rounds.
“He is clean, he does not depend on powerful people in the establishment,” Mohammadi said. “He represents those who don’t have access to power.”
By Friday evening, both hardliners and reformist figures urged the public to vote as lines in Tehran remained light.
“Until a few hours ago, I was reluctant to vote,” said Ahmad Safari, a 55-year-old shopkeeper and father of three daughters who voted despite skipping the first round. “But I decided to vote for Pezeshkian because of my children.” Maybe he will have a better future.”
The vote comes as wider tensions grip the Middle East over the war between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. In April, Iran launched its first direct attack on Israel over the Gaza war, while militia groups that Tehran arms in the region — such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels — have been engaged in fighting and have escalated their attacks.
Iran also continues to enrich uranium to near weapons-grade levels and maintains a stockpile large enough to build several nuclear weapons, if it so chooses. And while Khamenei remains the ultimate decision-maker on matters of state, whoever ends up in the presidency could steer the country’s foreign policy toward confrontation or cooperation with the West.
More than 61 million Iranians over the age of 18 were eligible to vote, of which about 18 million were between the ages of 18 and 30. Voting was supposed to end at 6 p.m., but was extended until midnight to increase participation.
Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash in May, was considered Khamenei’s protégé and potential successor as supreme leader.
However, many knew him for his involvement in the mass executions that Iran carried out in 1988 and for his role in the bloody crackdown on dissent that followed protests over the death of Mahsa Amini in 2022, a young woman who was detained by police for allegedly not wearing the mandatory headscarf or hijab.

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