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Reformist Masoud Pezeshkian wins Iran's presidential runoff

Iranian reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian reacts after casting his ballot during the presidential runoff in Shareh Qods, west of Tehran on Friday.
Atta Kenare
AFP via Getty Images
Iranian reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian reacts after casting his ballot during the presidential runoff in Shareh Qods, west of Tehran on Friday.

Updated July 06, 2024 at 10:23 AM ET

ISTANBUL — Voters in Iran have given a decisive win to reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian in the runoff election to replace late President Ebrahim Raisi, who was killed in a helicopter crash in May.

Iranian president-elect Pezeshkian, a heart surgeon and lawmaker who ran on a moderately reformist platform, was a relatively little-known candidate. But voters turned out in larger numbers than in round one, giving him more than 2.8 million votes over hard-line conservative Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator with strong anti-West views.

Iranian officials said about 30 million people turned out in Friday's vote, or about 49.6% of eligible voters, which is considered low for presidential elections. Officials reported that Pezeshkian had received 16.3 million votes to Jalili’s 13.5 million.

Pezeshkian campaigned on a promise to engage more with the outside world. He is also likely to appoint moderate cabinet ministers. But overall, the newly elected president's proposals are modest, showing no inclination to push for significant changes to a government that leaves all important matters of state to Supreme Leader Ayatolla Ali Khamenei.

Pezeshkian will also be facing a government still largely controlled by hard-liners at a time of tensions with the West over a number of issues, including the war in Gaza.

Getting to today's result

Snap elections were called after the late president Raisi was killed in a helicopter crash on May 19.

Iran’s Guardian Council, charged with vetting candidates, had winnowed down a long list of hopefuls to just six candidates: five hard-line conservatives and one reformist. But two candidates dropped out before the first vote.

On June 28, the first round of presidential elections was held among four remaining candidates: Pezeshkian, Jalili, parliament speaker and former Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf and Mostafa Pourmohammadi, a Shia cleric who had served in Iran's Interior and Intelligence Ministries.

But no candidate received a majority of votes, with Pezeshkian leading with 10.4 million votes while Jalili trailed in second with 9.4 million. They advanced to Friday's runoff.

It was the second presidential runoff in the country's history. The first took place in 2005, when hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won against former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Low turnout persists

Iran has struggled with low voter turnout for years, but last week the first round of the presidential election saw a record low with only 40% of eligible voters having cast ballots.

Turnout was slightly higher in the runoff, but still, more than half of eligible voters stayed home — signaling that while many preferred the reformist candidate, many saw no reason to vote.

Part of the apathy has to do with dissatisfaction with the Islamic Republic, while others are disillusioned that the presidential elections can lead to significant changes in the country.

Pezeshkian, for instance, voiced pushing for new social reform like lowering the presence of the morality police on the streets, but many are skeptical at how effective he will be, according to Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at the Chatham House think tank in London.

Copyright 2024 NPR

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.