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Jubilant supporters of President-elect Hasan Rowhani celebrated Saturday in Tehran, Iran. “Long live Rowhani,” tens of thousands of supporters chanted.

Vahid Salemi • Associated Press,

News of Hasan Rowhani’s commanding victory touched off spontaneous street celebrations on Saturday that turned some of Tehran’s streets into parking lots.

Ebrahim Noroozi • Associated Press,

Supporters of Iranian presidential candidate Hasan Rowhani, shown in the poster, attend a celebration gathering following his victory in Tehran, Iran, Saturday, June 15, 2013. Wild celebrations broke out on Tehran streets that were battlefields four years ago as reformist-backed Rowhani capped a stunning surge to claim Iran's presidency on Saturday, throwing open the political order after relentless crackdowns by hard-liners to consolidate and safeguard their grip on power. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

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A supporter of Hasan Rowhani flashed a victory sign as she held his poster in Tehran, Iran. “Long live Rowhani,” tens of thousands chanted.

Vahid Salemi • Associated Press,

'New opportunity has been created' after Iranian vote

  • Article by: ALI AKBAR DAREINI and BRIAN MURPHY
  • Associated Press
  • June 15, 2013 - 10:42 PM

– Wild celebrations broke out on Tehran streets that were battlefields four years ago as reformist-backed Hasan Rowhani capped a stunning surge to claim Iran’s presidency on Saturday, throwing open the political order after relentless crackdowns by hard-liners to consolidate and safeguard their grip on power.

“Long live Rowhani,” tens of thousands of supporters chanted as security officials made no attempt to rein in crowds — joyous and even a bit bewildered by the scope of his victory with more than three times the votes of his nearest rival.

Rowhani said that “a new opportunity has been created … for those who truly respect democracy, interaction and free dialogue.”

But in Iran, even landslides at the ballot box do not equate to policymaking influence. All key decisions remain solidly in the hands of the ruling clerics and their powerful protectors, the Revolutionary Guard. What Rowhani’s victory does is reopen space for moderate and liberal voices that have been largely muzzled in reprisal for massive protests and clashes in 2009 over claims the vote was rigged to deny reformists the presidency.

Rowhani’s supporters also viewed the election as a rebuke of uncompromising policies that have left the Islamic Republic increasingly isolated. Rowhani is hardly a radical, but he has taken a strong stance against the combative policies of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

“I’ve never been an extremist,” Rowhani said on state TV shortly after the official results were announced. “I support moderation. I thank God that once again rationality and moderation has shined on Iran.”

His emphasis on outreach could sharply lower the political temperature between Iran and the West and perhaps nudge the ruling establishment toward more flexible approaches in possible renewed nuclear talks. Rowhani also has added leverage with his political godfather and ally, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was blocked from the ballot but now can exert significant influence from the wings.

“Rowhani is, as we say in Persian, more bazaari than resistance, meaning he’s more a dealmaker than a rigid ideologue,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an Iranian-American and analyst for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington think-tank. “It’s true that Iran’s existing foreign policy principles are pretty entrenched, but he may be able to impact them, at a minimum tactically.”

For Obama and his national security team, Rowhani — who is often referred to as the “diplomat sheikh” in Iranian media — represents “the best hope for detente with Iran,” he said.

The resounding strength of his victory underscores the resilience of the opposition that coalesced four years ago around the now-crushed Green Movement.

After the 2009 election, results were announced only a short time after ballot boxes closed, leading to suspicions about the count. This time, the Interior Ministry took no chances, releasing the official vote total in live updates.

“They counted my vote, they counted my vote,” some supporters sang in reference to the protest slogan of four years ago: “Where is my vote?”

On social media, many supported posted images mixing the Green Movement colors with the purple of Rowhani’s campaign with the boast: “We won!”

“It’s the spring of freedom, too bad Neda isn’t here,” some yelled in memory of Neda Agha Soltan, and whose dying moments during the 2009 became an enduring symbol of the bloodshed.

Others chanted slogans not heard openly on Iran’s streets for years: calling for the release of political prisoners including Green Movement leader Mir Hossein Mousavi and opposition figure Mahdi Karroubi, both candidates in 2009 and both under house arrest.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.





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