TEHRAN: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won a resounding re-election victory on Saturday as voters backed his efforts to rebuild foreign ties and kickstart the struggling economy.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli confirmed the result on state television, saying Rouhani had won 23.5 million votes — 57 percent — compared to 15.8 million — 38.3 percent — for hardline challenger Ebrahim Raisi.
It followed a huge 73 percent turnout on Friday which forced authorities to extend polling by several hours.
“I congratulate the great victory of the Iranian nation in creating a huge and memorable epic in the continuation of the path of ‘wisdom and hope’,” tweeted Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, referring to the government’s slogan.
Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric who spearheaded a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, framed the election as a choice between greater civil liberties and “extremism”.
Hardline cleric Raisi, 56, had positioned himself as a defender of the poor and called for a much tougher line with the West.
But his revolutionary rhetoric and efforts to win over working class voters with promises of increased handouts gained limited traction.
“Rouhani’s vote, particularly in rural areas, shows that Iranian people no longer believe in economic populism and radical change,” said Ali Vaez, Iran analyst for the International Crisis Group, a think tank.
“They have the maturity to understand that the solution to their country’s predicaments are in competent management of the economy and moderation in international relations,” Vaez told AFP.
Rouhani’s central first-term achievement was a deal with six powers led by the United States that eased crippling economic sanctions in exchange for curbs on Iran’s nuclear programme.
He gained a reprieve this week when Washington agreed to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions, keeping the deal on track for now.
But the election comes at a tense moment in relations with the United States, with President Donald Trump still threatening to abandon the accord and visiting Iran’s bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia this weekend.