ISTANBUL — Preliminary results in Iran’s presidential election show incumbent leader Hassan Rouhani ahead of his hardline rival by more than 7 million votes, officials said, following a near-record turnout in an election that has rested largely on whether voters supported the president’s efforts to mend ties with the West.
Officials said that roughly 40 million Iranians cast ballots in Friday’s election — a turnout rate of more than 70 percent — and that nearly all of the votes had been counted Saturday. Rouhani, widely viewed as a moderate, had secured at least 56 percent of the vote with more than 22 million ballots. His challenger, influential cleric Ebrahim Raisi, had just 15 million votes — a devastating rebuke of Iran’s conservatives who scoff at the soft power of diplomacy.
If the Rouhani maintains his lead, he will have a resounding endorsement of his project to end Iran’s pariah status and rejoin the global economy, an effort he started in his first term by striking a nuclear deal with world powers. That deal constrains Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for major sanctions relief.
At stake generally was Iran’s international outreach, as well as its national identity as a state either moving toward more political openness or turning inward to assuage Iranians troubled by reforms and a sluggish economy.
On the campaign trail, Rouhani had pledged to pursue talks with the United States to lift further sanctions, and push for greater freedoms inside Iran. But, if reelected, he will also face a more confrontational U.S. leader with President Trump, whose administration has put the nuclear deal under review. And at home, Rouhani’s promises of a freer society may be hampered by Iranians’ widespread concerns over the economy. The president has curbed runaway inflation and resumed oil sales on the international market, but the unemployment rate remains high and many Iranians still live in poverty.