President Hassan Rouhani Wins Re-Election In Iran Iranians voted for president Friday, and chose to re-elect President Hassan Rouhani, who made a historic nuclear deal with the West.

President Hassan Rouhani Wins Re-Election In Iran

President Hassan Rouhani Wins Re-Election In Iran

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Iranians voted for president Friday, and chose to re-elect President Hassan Rouhani, who made a historic nuclear deal with the West.


In Iran, President Hasan Rouhani has won a second term. He easily defeated a hard-line conservative cleric by a 57 to 38 percent margin. The vote is seen as an endorsement of Rouhani's move to try to open his tightly controlled country to the outside world, including an agreement to restrict Iran's nuclear program in return for the lifting of economic sanctions. NPR's Peter Kenyon joins us from Tehran.

Peter, thanks for being with us.


SIMON: And what kind of reaction are you seeing there to Rouhani's victory?

KENYON: Well, there are a lot of happy people in Tehran today. The signs had been pointing to a Rouhani re-election. But still, there was a great uncertainty and a great sigh of relief, I guess I'd say, when the official results matched - well, even exceeded the predictions. This was a big win and, for conservatives, a decisive loss.

I was out on the streets today, got a lot of pleasurable reactions. The sentiment was a hope that the margin of this victory would somehow strengthen Rouhani's hand. I met this young engineer. His name's Masoud Ashari (ph). He says the vote proves Iran's population, which is quite young, has been wanting change for a long time. And he says it's building up and building up, and this is - well, here's a bit of how he put it.

MASOUD ASHARI: It's about 10 or 20 years that the Iranian people want to change the condition in Iran. The condition of the revolution has been changed now. The people are now growing, and the new generation wants new thing.

KENYON: I also met a young woman, and she was very happy Rouhani had won. She said she thinks a lot of people voted not necessarily because they loved Rouhani's achievements, which were pretty modest in his first term, but there was a deep concern about having another hard-line government, especially when they look across to the U.S. when they see a government that - well, they see - is full of American hard-line conservatives.

SIMON: And what do you think Iranians expect from Rouhani in his second term?

KENYON: The plea is pretty clear - fix the economy now. I met a lot of desperate Iranians this week just barely hanging on, wondering when this big nuclear deal that's gotten so much attention and brought billions of dollars into the country, will mean some real improvement in their lives. So jobs, salaries, economic growth - it's a familiar tale. And those are the challenges facing Rouhani now. Iranians seem to be buying his argument that engaging with the world is the right way to do it. But he couldn't achieve much for ordinary people in his first term. And the question is, what can he do in a second?

SIMON: And Peter, what implications does Rouhani's re-election hold for relations between the Trump administration and Iran?

KENYON: Well, people here are hoping Rouhani's election is seen in the West as a sign of continuity, stability. But it's going to be a rocky road, I've been told over and over again, especially if the harsh rhetoric from the Trump administration turns into more sanctions or confrontations. The Iranians are watching Trump's Mideast trip here with more than a little unease. They believe the Saudis and Israelis will try to pressure Trump into confronting Iran. But when it came time to pull the trigger on the vote yesterday, most of them seemed to believe that it would be even worse if they had a hardliner in office.

SIMON: NPR's Peter Kenyon in Tehran - thanks very much for being with us.

KENYON: Thanks, Scott.

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Iran's President Hassan Rouhani Wins Re-Election

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as prepared to cast his ballot on Friday. Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, as prepared to cast his ballot on Friday.

Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 10:21 a.m. ET

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has won re-election by a large margin.

According to Iran's Interior Ministry as reported by Press TV, Rouhani won about 57% of the vote with more than 23.5 million votes against his main challenger Ebrahim Raisi's 15.7 million. Rouhani appeared to have benefited from a large turnout that forced polls to stay open until midnight, NPR's Peter Kenyon reports. More than 40 million out of 56 million eligible voters cast their ballots.

In a live speech carried by State TV, Rouhani said Saturday that the vote showed Iran's willingness to work with the international community, and a rejection of hardliners, according to the AP.

First elected in 2013, Rouhani is seen as a reformer in Iran's largely conservative society. He is best known abroad as the president who made a nuclear deal with the West in 2015, in which the country agreed to certain limits on nuclear development in return for the lifting of some sanctions.

His conservative opponent Raisi attacked the weak state of the economy under Rouhani. Raisi "lambasted Rouhani for seeking foreign investment and appealed to religious conservatives," The Guardian noted.

Massoud Asheri, a 29-year-old engineer for a mining company, told Peter that he was always confident Rouhani would prevail, and believes it's a sign that popular pressure for change is mounting.

"It's about 10 or 20 years that people in Iran want to change the condition in Iran," Asheri said. "The people now are growing, and the new generation wants new things."

But Asheri also says Iranians urgently need economic improvements.

"So I think in the next four years, Mr. Rouhani [...] must respond to the people who voted for him for the second time."

Rouhani voter Narges Sha'eri, 30, agrees that the economy tops the to-do list for Rouhani, but adds that a steady hand in dealing with the international community is also needed. She says a good deal of Rouhani's support was motivated by fear of what might happen if the hard liners regained control of the executive branch.

"Precisely that," she told Peter. "We also knew very well that should Raisi win, he would bring the same people that were of the (hard line) principalist camp, which would drive the country backward."

The lifting of sanctions did benefit the economy by increasing oil production. Iran is one of the top oil-producing countries in the world; the CIA ranked it at No. 7 in 2015. Rouhani had promised during the campaign to further undo international sanctions in a second term, Kenyon says.

But the economy is still sluggish. In mid-2016, unemployment stood at 12.7 percent, a "three-year high," according to the World Bank. NPR's Steve Inskeep reports that Rouhani "brought down inflation, but he slowed the economy while doing so."

Rouhani's reforms have been modest and gradual, as Inskeep notes. Reformist newspapers have begun publishing again and imprisoned journalists have been freed. Rouhani presided over an expansion of the country's 3G and 4G networks, used by smartphones.

But ultimate power in the country rests with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has held the title since 1989. Khamenei controls the country's security forces and can veto any presidential policies.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia Saturday morning, for a visit with the country's royal leaders. The Saudis are a strong U.S. ally and arch-enemy of Iran; the largely Sunni Saudis strongly opposed President Obama's outreach and nuclear deal with the Persian Shia power.

Despite President Trump's pledges to "rip up" the Iran deal, the Trump administration's State Department allowed the deal to continue this past week by continuing to waive sanctions on Iran.

Relations between the U.S. and Iran are likely to be remain hostile, according to Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He told NPR's Morning Edition that leaders in the U.S.-allied countries of Israel and Saudi Arabia are likely to advocate "a policy which goes back to status quo ante on Iran which is pushing Iran back in the Middle East."

NPR's Peter Kenyon contributed to this report.