Friday’s election in Iran was surprising on multiple fronts. Perceived reformer Hassan Rouhani won a majority of the vote in the first round, clinching the presidency to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has held that position since 2005. Iranians took to the streets in celebration during the weekend to recognize not only Rouhani’s unlikely victory with 50.7 percent of the vote, but also the process itself which, unlike 2009, did not appear to be rigged by the country’s ruling elites. Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei likely felt pressure to give way to the majority rule due to the country’s economy, crippled by international sanctions, and the series of uprisings throughout the region. Protests that began in the Arab Spring in late 2010 continue to roil in countries such as neighboring Syria and Turkey.
“I see it as a change in the policies and approach of the supreme leader,” says Iran expert Meir Javendanfar, an instructor at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, Israel. “The assumption was these elections are going to be determined by the supreme leader instead of by the vote by the Iranian people being counted.”
“I was absolutely surprised, after the events of 2009,” he said, while speaking on a conference call organized by the Wilson Center. Ahmadinejad won that election by 63 percent of the vote against reformer Mir-Hossein Mousavi, though many Iranian officials claim that election was fixed.