Iran Presidential-elect Masoud Pezeshkian (L) and his advisor, former Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Tehran, July 5, 2024 (Saeed Zareian/WANA)

Iran (Mis-Managed?) Election — Reformist Pezeshkian and Hardliner Jalili Advance to Presidential Runoff


Despite the likely limits on President-elect Masoud Pezeshkian’s authority, there is anecdotal evidence of Iranians dropping a first-round boycott to vote for him in the runoff.

Ghazal, a 24-year-old fashion designer in Tehran, said by phone, “I’m going to vote, because if I don’t vote, the Islamic Republic won’t be toppled.”

Sedigheh, a 41-year-old pediatrician in Tehran, explained in a call, “I voted, because I think we need small and incremental changes that make our lives a little better, and if there is a president who can or wants to make those small changes, it’s enough for now.”

Farnaz Fassihi of the New York Times, who conducted the interviews, also notes conservatives who crossed party lines and voted for Pezeshkian because hardliner Saeed Jalili was too extreme.

Saeed Hajati said in a Clubhouse virtual meeting on Thursday, “Mr. Jalili cannot unite Iranians. He will divide us more, and we need someone who can bridge these divisions.”


Masoud Pezeshkian told Iranians after his victory in the Presidential runoff, “The difficult path ahead will not be smooth except with your companionship, empathy and trust.”

He added on Twitter, “This is just the beginning of our cooperation… I extend my hand to you and I swear on my honor that I will not leave you alone on the path.”

The head of Pezeshkian’s campaign in Mazandaran Province in northern Iran, tweeted, “The end of the rule of minority over majority. Congratulations for the victory of wisdom over ignorance.”

And the Supreme Leader effectively confirmed that he would not intervene, as in 2009, to block the outcome:

ORIGINAL ENTRY: Dr. Masoud Pezeshkian, an MP and former Health Minister initially selected by Iran’s regime as a token reformist candidate, has been declared the winner of Friday’s Presidential runoff.

The Interior Ministry announced at 6:45 a.m. Saturday that Pezeshkian receivd 16,384,403 votes while hardliner Saeed Jalili, Iran’s former lead nuclear negotiator and Secretary of the National Security Council, had 13,538,179.

Pezeshkian, 69, succeeds hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash in northwest Iran in May as he was returning from a visit to neighboring Azerbaijan.

A heart surgeon, Pezeshkian joined the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami in 1997 as a Deputy Health Minister and served as Health Minister from 2001 to 2005. He was elected to President in 2016, and was 1st Deputy Speaker from 2016 to 2020.

He is Iran’s first reformist President since the Khatami Administration of 1997-2005.

The Path to an Unexpected Victory

In 2009, the Supreme Leader’s office and other regime factions intervened to prevent the possibility of a victory by Mir Hossein Mousavi, the leader of the opposition Green Movement. The manipulation brought more than a million Iranian out in protests, which were only suppressed after several months by mass detentions, intimidation, cut-off of communications, and scores of killings.

Mousavi, fellow 2009 candidate and former Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karroubi, and Mousavi’s wife Zahra Rahnavard, a prominent academic and artist, have been under strict house arrest since February 2011.

With the acceptance of Pezeshkian’s victory, the regime appears to have put a priority on an appearance of “legitimacy” over any concern that the triumph might unsettle its rule.

With the Constitutional requirement of an election within 50 days of Raisi’s death, the Guardian Council — six clerics appointed by the Supreme Leader, and six jurists named by Parliament — quickly considered 80 applications for candidacy.

The Council rejected 74. Among those disqualified were former Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani, former President and “winner” of the disputed 2009 election Mahmoud Ahmadinjead, all four women applicants, and all but one reformist.

Alongside Pezeshkian, the other permitted candidates were Jalili; Parliament Speaker Mohammad-Baqer Ghalibaf; former Judiciary Minister Mostafa Pourhammadi; Tehran Mayor Alireza Zakani; and Amirhossein Ghazizadeh, a Vice President and the head of the Foundation of Martyrs and Veterans Affairs.

However, the decision backfired when the perception of limited, even irrelevant, choice further depressed the Islamic Republic’s historically-low voter turnout. While the regime appeared to calculate that Pezeshkian’s campaign style would have limited appeal — especially to younger voters, in contrast with the unprecedented enthusiasm generated by the Green Movement in 2009 — Jalili and particularly Qalibaf failed to galvanize support.

When Raisi was selected in 2021, the official participation was 48.8%, followed by another record low of 42% in the Parliamentary elections in March 2024.

The Supreme Leader appealed to Iranians to show up in June 28’s first-round ballot, saying it would show strength against his “enemies”. But the official turnout was a humiliating 40.2%.

The regime mobilized all agencies and outlets to elevate the rate for Friday’s runoff, at least breaking the 50% mark and 2021’s historic low. On Wednesday, the Supreme Leader appealed, “We hope that people’s turnout for the second round [this Friday] will be important and a source of pride for the Islamic Republic.”

The Interior Ministry proclaimed this morning that 30,530,157 votes were cast — 49.8% of Iran’s eligible population of around 61 million. The total includes more than 1 million invalid ballots.

Will Pezeshkian Make Any Difference?

Attention will now turn to whether Pezeshkian will have any meaningful authority.

In 2013, the Supreme Leader’s office and Guardian Council made a similar miscalculation to 2024 when, after disqualifying former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, they approved the candidacy of his
protégé, the centrist Hasan Rouhani, as a consolation. Rouhani unexpectedly surged to a first-round majority as three regime-backed candidates split the conservative and hardline vote.

With Iran’s economy in dire trouble, Rouhani was given some space to ease the situation. That included the pursuit of negotiations for the July 2015 nuclear agreement, with the relief of international sanctions, with the 5+1 Powers (US, France, Germany, UK, China, and Russia).

However, in other essential areas of policy and operations, Rouhani and his Government were barred from influence. In 2014, amid Iran’s deadly backing of Syria’s Assad regime and the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Supreme Leader’s office told the President that he had no authority for decisions about the Middle East.

The President’s complaints about the excessive power of the Revolutionary Guards, both in foreign affairs and in the economy, were futile. His pledges were social reforms were curbed, and he was firmly rebuffed over any lifting of the house arrests of the Green Movement’s leaders.

Pezeshkian has criticized the regime’s repression of the mass protests in 2009, the economy in 2018-2019, and the “Woman, Life, Freedom” rallies from September 2022. However, he has been careful not to back the most recent protests, sparked by the death in police custody of Mahsa Amini, saying they were not in the interest of the Iranian people.

During the campaign, the doctor questioned the enforcement of laws for compulsory hijab, but not the laws themselves. Having backed the power of the Revolutionary Guards in the past, he avoided any reference ot them. And while putting a priority on international engagement to lift sanctions, he maintained caution over the process for reviving the nuclear talks, stalled since spring 2022.

Pezeshkian also made no statement about the house arrests of Mousavi, Karroubi, and Rahnavard.