HomeIran has voted in a reformist president — but change remains distant

Iran has voted in a reformist president — but change remains distant

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Iran elected its first “reformist” president in 20 years on Friday. According to official figures, it signalled many voters’ rejection of hardline conservative policies amid a low turnout of just 49%.

A former health minister and member of parliament, Masoud Pezeshkian, was the most moderate of the candidates vying for the presidency after the sudden death of former President Ibrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash in May. 

The 69-year-old Pezeshkian is described as a “token reformist” and “second-tier candidate” by many analysts. He was seen as having a scant chance at the presidency as he lacked name recognition and was up against a highly conservative system.

“The whole election process leading to Pezeshkian’s victory has been surprising. It does mark a notable shift in Iran’s political landscape,” Sina Toossi, a senior non-resident fellow at the Center for International Policy, told CNBC.

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The result, Toossi said, “reflects a complex interplay of voter discontent, abstention, and a desire for change. Despite the heavily controlled and undemocratic nature of the election process, Pezeshkian’s success signals a rejection of hardline extremism and an appetite for reform and better relations with the global community.”

His victory at the Iran polls was all the more surprising given the fact that Iran’s ultra-conservative Guardian Council decides who is allowed to run for election in the first place, heavily favoring conservative candidates. 

Still, Pezeshkian “faces substantial challenges from entrenched hardliners and external pressures, making his presidency a critical and uncertain chapter for Iran’s future,” Toossi said.

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