Iranian president Hassan Rouhani, whose more moderate policies included greater internal freedoms and a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with the U.S. that brought about some sanctions relief, has won a resounding victory for a second four-year term, Iranian State TV said Saturday.
Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli told a news conference that the 68-year-old cleric won 57 percent of the vote against three other contenders to avoid a runoff.
Voting hours were extended several times because of the high turnout — 41.2 million voters, or 73 percent of the electorate.
As Rouhani's victory looked increasingly likely late Friday, some female drivers held out the V for victory sign and flashed their car lights on highways in Tehran’s affluent north.
In 2013, Rouhani won his first term with nearly 51 percent of the vote amid a turnout of 73 percent.
Iran’s president is the second-most powerful figure within Iran’s political system. He is subordinate to the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.
Still, the president oversees a vast state bureaucracy employing more than 2 million people, is charged with naming Cabinet members and other officials to key posts, and plays a significant role in shaping both domestic and foreign policy.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei issued a statement Saturday commending the Iranian people for their "massive and epic" turnout in the country's elections.
"The winner of the yesterday's elections, is you, the Iranian people, and the Islamic establishment, which has managed to win the increasing trust of this big nation despite the enemies' plot and effort," he said, according to PressTV.
Friday’s vote was largely a referendum on Rouhani’s more moderate political policies, which opened the way for the 2015 nuclear deal with President Obama and key Western countries, as well as Russia and China.
President Trump campaigned to scrap the agreement, but so far has maintained it and followed through on sanctions relief. Trump's first stop of his initial foreign trip, which began Friday, was to Saudi Arabia, Iran's arch-enemy in the region.
Rouhani has come to embody more liberal and reform-minded Iranians’ hopes for greater freedoms and openness in the conservative Islamic Republic and better relations with the outside world.
All candidates for elected office must be vetted, a process that excludes anyone calling for radical change, along with most reformists. No woman has ever been approved to run for president.
During the campaign, he openly criticized hard-liners and Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force involved in the war in Syria and the fight against Islamic State militants in neighboring Iraq.
His nearest challenger was hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who garnered 15.7 million votes, or 38.5 percent. He is close to the supreme leader, who stopped short of endorsing anyone in the election.
Raisi's populist campaign vowed to fight corruption and fix the economy while boosting welfare payments to the poor.
Two other candidates, including Tehran's mayor, dropped out of the race in the final days of the campaign to throw their support to Rouhani and Raisi.
Many of Raisi’s critics pointed to his alleged role condemning inmates to death during Iran’s 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners, and feared a victory for the hard-liner could worsen human rights in Iran and put the country on a more confrontational path with the West.
The other two candidates, Mostafa Mirsalim, a former culture minister, and Mostafa Hashemitaba, a pro-reform figure, won under 500,000 votes.
Hashemitaba was among the first to predict an outright win for Rouhani as he offered his congratulations Saturday morning.
“Rouhani will apply his ever-increasing efforts for the dignity of Iran” in his next term, the reformist said.
That gave hope to his supporters, who during recent campaign rallies called for the release of two reformist leaders of the 2009 Green Movement who remain under house arrest. The two figures, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, both endorsed Raisi, as did Mohammad Khatami, another reformist who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005.
Contributing: Associated Press