Coffee House

What on earth went right? Iranians come to terms with a landslide election

15 June 2013

The victory of Hassan Rouhani has stunned pundits, and it seems even Iranians can’t quite believe it. He is a moderate (if not, quite, a reformer) who defeated five conservatives. He was helped by the fact that other moderates had stood back to give him a clear run. His victory was massive – 51pc of the vote – and the Iranian authorities seem to have made no attempt to conceal it. There was no need for a second vote. The supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has congratulated the 64-year-old Glasgow-educated Rouhani:-

“I urge everyone to help the president-elect and his colleagues in the government, as he is the president of the whole nation.”

The quotes coming through from Iranian votes show a mixture of surprise and jubilation. Here is a selection.

“I thought they would trick us, engineer a runoff with another candidate and make Rowhani lose,” Reyhan, 30, a poet, quoted by the New York Times

“…a clear sign that after the 2009 uprising, the supreme leader has learned that his regime needs to regain its legitimacy, and that will only come from counting the vote of the people” – Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian politics lecturer at Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, Israel.

An Iranian voter. Picture: BBC Persian

An Iranian voter. Picture: BBC Persian

“We did it, we showed that young people are tired of the current situation and the economy. We want change, we want freedom,” – Mohsen, in late 20s. (WSJ)

“This was supposed to be a well-regulated, well-crafted election, and then the wheels came off. It appears that the leadership miscalculated Rouhani’s appeal, and also miscalculated the ineptness of its preferred candidates and the impact of the divisions among the conservative coalition.” –  Ray Takeyh, a US former State Department adviser (Washington Post)

“My martyr brother, I got your vote back,” – a chant in Tehran’s Mohseni Square, referring to 100 victims of the 2009 protests

Screen Shot 2013-06-15 at 21.15.00

“We are not expecting miracles. He can start by working on freedom for political prisoners. Maybe it won’t happen overnight but we are hopeful.” – ,” said Maryam, a 44-year-old mother of two from Tehran. ” (WSJ)

It is unbelievable, have the people really won?” – Fatema, 58, (NYT)


This victory is a victory for wisdom, moderation and maturity… over extremism” – President-elect Hassan Rouhani (right).

“The Foreign Office notes the announcement of Hassan Rowhani’s electoral victory.” – UK Government

Claim your gift

VOTING SHARE1000169_10151552028662713_1948480395_n

Hassan Rouhani 50.7pc

Mohammad Qalibaf (Mayor of Tehran)  17pc

Saeed Jalili , 11pc

Mohsen Rezaie, 10.6pc

Ali Akbar Velayati, 6.%


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Show comments
  • chan chan

    Stop pretending that they want a western style liberal democracy. 83% of Iranians favour sharia law. How does that fit with your ‘freedom’ rubbish? Well, it certainly gives ‘freedom’ from man-made law, I’ll give you that. They clearly want more of the same in Iran, and as with the rest of the Islamic world, a tiny minority of students and metropolitan trendies who want otherwise are irrelevant. This man continues that. To think that he won’t is absurd beyond belief.

  • agthagola Dastangul

    I worked in Iran for several years after the revaluation. I was very impressed with the development they have done in medicine, social welfare and their efforts to lift the underdeveloped classes. There is no village in Iran which is not covered by department of health. Their elections are one of the fairest in the world no matter what Zionist groups say. During Shah of Iran they imported everything including skilled workforce and did some cosmetic developments for the country to look so called “modern”. During Shah time Iran was importing their Doctors Engineers and other skilled workers from West. After revolution they were able to catch up with shortages of Shah and now Iran does not need a single “Guest worker”.

    West was getting fed up Shah of Iran since during his last few years he started to think about Iranian people instead of giving subsidies to Western powers. So a conspiracy was hatched to take out Shah of Iran (who got the fever of Nationalism) and put a more reliable stooge there. Ayatullah Khomani pretended as a stooge of west before revelation and western media help to make him popular among masses. Once he got his revelation he lifted his face mask. This has happened in Nicaragua (remember Ortega) in Past.

  • margaret benjamin

    Hassan Rouhani is extreme alright and no different from his predecessor. not one jot.

  • Abhay

    We barely know anything about Rouhani. He was hardly being discussed 15 days ago. The big headlines we know are that he is a follower of Khomeini, is a Shia cleric and was involved in the nuclear negotiations.

    So why this premature cheer?

    • alabenn

      So why this premature cheer?
      Hope over experience, comes to mind.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Yes. The Speccie is a leftist organ, and emotionalism is the Left’s driver, and the useful tool for pushing its line.

        It’s anti-conservative.

    • margaret benjamin

      He has nothing good to say about America Briton UK and Israel.

  • HookesLaw

    Mr Nelson you hail democracy in Iran but sneer at attempts to support it for Syria.

    • Abhay

      Who is ushering democracy in Syria, by the way?

  • Sean Lamb

    The polls predicted Ahmadinejad would win last time and he duly won. We then learned the power of the echo chamber effect of social media. Given social media users were only a small minority of Iranians in 2009 and they quickly discovered that no other social media users had voted for Ahmadinejad, they managed to convinced themselves the election had been stolen (doubtless assisted with a bit of mischief making from outside). The only conclusion is social media users are mostly idiots – an observation which can be quickly verified by studying twitter users in the UK

    In Australia I never knew a single person who confessed to voting for John Howard – he still won 4 elections.

    Anyway: my hot tip for the future of Iranian punditry. After 8 years of including Ahmadinejad in the ranks of Stalin and Pol Pot and endless quoting how he said Israel would be wiped off the map (along with the Soviet Union, Czechoslovakia,, Yugoslavia, Sudan, Goa, Sikkim and the Kingdom of Mercia), we will suddenly remember the Iranian presidency is not a particularly powerful role. Or least so we endlessly repeated to each other when Khatami was president.

    I imagine Neocons are weeping into the chardonnays tonight, they got so much joy from that wiping off the map quote.

    Middle Eastern pundits: drivel one day, cliches the next.

    • Daniel Maris

      Sorry – your point is? That Iran in reality respects Israel’s right to exist as a UN member state ? Is that what you are expecting us to believe? All those Death to America and Death to Israel chants that have been taking place for 40 years now every Friday are just a pretence? The point about the Presidency is that the Ayatollah can frustrate the will of the President if he (got to be a he) is a “moderate”. Equally the Presidency increases in importance if it is felt the Ayatollah is sympathetic to the President.

      Not that difficult to follow is it?

  • Austin Barry

    Fraser’s rather sanguine paste job may be somewhat premature. Here’s what the usually reliable DebkaFile intelligence website has to say:

    “The Guards are already spoiling for this fight and may not wait for the new president to take office in August. Saturday night, shortly after Rouhani was proclaimed victor, rumors were flying around Tehran of a Revolutionary Guards military coup conspiracy to prevent him from taking office. Gen. Reza Naqi, who tried to interfere in the counting of ballots, was heard commenting two days before the vote: “Never mind who is elected, or how, we consider it our duty to get rid of any undesirable president.”

    • Sean Lamb

      “usually reliable DebkaFile intelligence website”
      I have seen a lot of adjectives applied to DebkaFile (risible, patently absurd, kooky), “usually reliable” is certainly a new one on me.

      • Austin Barry

        Sean, old chum, for the ‘risible, patently absurd and kooky’ I refer you to this statement:

        ‘..I have come to the opinion that HIV was most likely first isolated in the US in the search for cancer causing viruses, trained on some human cell lines and then either accidentally contaminated or more likely deliberately included, in a vaccine trial. Partly because scientists are idiots, but also because they thought it might cause some kind of leukemia and help them understand the processes of cancer.’

        Author? None other than Sean Lamb.

        • Sean Lamb

          Austin, I’m from Queensland and I am here to help.

          Marilyn, the chimpanzee, was taken from Central Africa in 1959 to an Air Force base in New Mexico. She supplied new born chimps for Litton Bionectics in Virginia. Robert Gallo, then working for Litton, isolated a number of viruses, including SIV, in the late 1960s and early 1970s and managed to culture them in T-ALL (human) cell lines under the aegis of the Special Virus Cancer Program. In culture SIV evolved rapidly under the selection pressure of this particular cell line to turn into HIV. Released in the late 1970s as Tuskegee style experiment into human leukemias, honed through its years of cell culture it ran through the gay population like a raging bull, Robert Gallo in desperate misery first tried to pretend it was being caused by another retro-virus HLTV-3, before Montagnier was right. HIV-2, was isolated from sooty mangabees by similar processes.

          I have come into possession of some of the Litton Bionectics reports, although not quite a smoking gun, they are fairly illuminating.
          Any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

          • Austin Barry

            “Any further questions, don’t hesitate to ask.”

            As an Aussie you may be able to answer the following:

            What diabolical scientific experiment gone wrong has resulted in the current Australian cricket team?

      • HookesLaw

        Barry is a nut job who carefully chooses his sources to feed his ignorance
        Standard nut job procedure

        • MirthaTidville

          so what does that make you then?

          • the viceroy’s gin

            …well, did you remember reading above that some chimps were imported from Central Africa….?

  • Curnonsky

    His election will change precisely nothing as far as the Iranian nuclear weapons program is concerned – Khamenei calls the shots here, and everywhere else for that matter. Presumably Rouhani will be allowed a few symbolic gestures, then he will slowly become an ineffectual figurehead leading a discredited “moderate” regime.

    But the real rulers will have bought themselves more time, time to spin those centrifuges. Once they have got what they are after all that has gone before will be irrelevant.

  • CraigStrachan

    Surely this is something of a vindication of President Obama’s approach to Iran?

    • the viceroy’s gin

      How so?

      Obama seemed to want to talk nice with the mullahs, absent any conditions.

      It was only after that pie-in-the-sky nonsense failed, and he was forced to accede to the imposition of economic sanctions, that the mullahs sat up and took notice.

      • CraigStrachan

        The sanctions coupled with the President’s consistently respectful attitude towards the Iranian people created the space for a candidate like Rouhani. A more aggressive U.S. posture would only have aided the hardliners in Iran.

        • the viceroy’s gin

          Nobody was ever disrespectful to the Iranian people, before or after Obama, so that’s not of issue, and didn’t “create space” for anybody.

          Most of the “aggressive posture” has been applied by the Europeans, not Obama. Bush had long before let them have their head with this effort, one of the smarter things he did. They were pushing sanctions all along, but Obama came along and wanted unconditional and bilateral talks, circumventing what was already in place via the Europeans.

          His approach failed, and here we are.

          If you’re speaking of “aggressive posture” as referencing US military posture towards the mullahs, nothing has changed re Iran and the mullahs over the past 30+ years or so. Every president is doing the same things, including Obama.

          The “hardliners” you reference watched street violence following the last election, and have likely made at least some concessions to that sentiment. They know that the bad economy, inflation and other internal pressures make street violence a distinct possibility, especially as they glance next door to Ankara.

          • CraigStrachan

            Hmm. Seems to me the Obama administration has done a pretty impressive job finessing the sanctions, and obtaining broad international support for the sanctions regime.

            The President also seems to have persuaded Israel of the benefits of restraint towards Iran. How toxic would the political climate in Iran have been like in the wake of an Israeli strike, I wonder?

            But, certainly, the major credit for the election of Rouhani goes to the Iranian people, who will continue to determine their own future.

            • the viceroy’s gin

              As I say, the Obama administration is only finally jumping on board with the sanctions effort, after first scorning it, so no sense reinventing history and giving them credit for that. They were an impediment to that effort, if anything.

              Israel will do whatever it does, and I doubt Obama could ever have any effect on what they do. They bomb what they want, when they want, even if the US is against it. However, they have not the capability to take on multiple targets in Iran, so they likely won’t, but they certainly would bomb away if they had the capability, as we know historically, Obama or no.

  • JabbaTheCat

    Ermm…what’s with the moderate nonsense, Iran is still run by the mad mullahs who are trying to desperately develop their own nuclear bomb, as well as undermine the region through their state sponsored terrorism in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon…

    • HookesLaw

      Another nut job unable to face the Truth
      Iranian politicians in fact showing more sense than some British ones in not splitting the vote to let in a numpty

  • Hexhamgeezer

    The Iranian Nick Clegg wins. The no change candidate with a nicer face.

    The man who launches the bomb but expresses regrets that it was ‘necessary’

    They’ll be dancing in the streets of Tel Aviv (not)

  • Augustus

    “What on earth went right?”

    The PR job, that’s what. A Rouhani victory serves as an expression of moderation that the regime wishes to transmit to Washington. It’s a magnificent public relations gambit. While the State Department tries to interpret the events and study the issues anew, the centrifuges will continue to spin, posing an even greater danger. Rouhani’s victory means that Iran now has a spiritual leader and a spiritual president. It might be as well to point out that the Iranian regime is founded upon the principle in which the spiritual leader’s religious authority is bestowed upon him by divine providence, or to be more exact, the hidden imam. During the absence of the hidden imam, the figure who serves as the basis of the Shiite faith, the spiritual leader is the one who leads the Shiites, not only in Iran but throughout the entire globe.

    For years the ayatollah regime enjoyed tremendous public support. Only recently has there been an erosion of this by the public, especially in 2009. So Khamenei must be worried. In years past all the spiritual leader had to do was show up at the ballot box for the average citizen to understand that it was his divine duty to cast his vote. This gimmick may not have the same effect anymore. But for him the identity of the winner is virtually insignificant. Voter turnout, on the other hand, is a much more important barometer. The Iranian lower classes have always supported the revolution, Khamenei’s problem lies with the middle class. And even the regime can’t downplay the severity of the economic distress gripping Iran. People are beginning to lose patience. If Khamenei agrees to bestow additional powers on his new president he will certainly keep final authority on the most sensitive matters, including policy as it relates to Syria, Israel, and the nuclear programme.

  • David Lindsay

    Between Afghanistan and Iraq, there is, in stark contrast to both of our efforts, a fully functioning democracy.

    That must be the case.

    If this result is valid, and I have no doubt that it is, then the last result, under exactly the same system, must also have been valid.

    The new President of Iran has far more legitimacy than the present Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. As did the old one.

    • Wessex Man

      I believe in Angels in every thing they do.

    • HookesLaw

      be have an elected PM they have an elected President
      We must continue to support the demands for democracy in Syria and support it in Iraq and Afghanistan
      The result in Iran and the demands for democracy all over the Middle East is a tribute to Bush more than Obama

      • Andy

        We don’t have an ‘elected PM’. We elect members of the House of Commons. The Prime Minster is appointed by Her Majesty the Queen: it is her government.

  • Count Dooku

    My Iranian friend is over the moon with the result. Iranians are some of the nicest, moderate people you will ever meet but are governed by some crack pots. You wouldn’t believe it going by what we see on the media.

    • emma2000

      Totally agree, we lived in Teheran until forced to leave in February 1979. Iranians are the nicest people you could meet and I never felt threatened all the time we were there and that time included the start of the revolution when our Iranian friends made sure we were ok. What they got was certainly not what they wanted, many hoped for a more democratic, slightly more religious society but never a Theocracy. I loved it there and it was always our wish to go back one day. sadly my husband has since died so I guess it will always be unfinished business.

      • CraigStrachan

        Yes, and anyone who says you can’t negotiate with the Iranians has obviously never been on the other side of a real estate deal in Los Angeles with a Persian buyer. They love negotiating so much they never stop!

        • Count Dooku

          Agreed, it would be a huge shame if there was a war in the region because of the Iranian government. And you’ll notice that none of the terrorist murdering bstds of recent times have been Persian. They are a natural ally to the West like turkey.

          • Abhay

            I am not sure Turkey is such a ‘natural ally’. There may be tactical or strategic reasons to keep Turkey close but its not a ‘natural’ fit. Not with Erdogan’s Islamist agenda.

            So how is Iran a natural ally of the West? Perhaps you can elaborate for us, Sir?

          • Curnonsky

            The Iranians were caught trying to blow up the Saudi ambassador in downtown Washington, D.C. not so long ago, and of course they are closely allied with Hezbollah, so perhaps you might want to rethink that.

            • Count Dooku

              You are referring to actions of the government, which is exactly my point.

      • Abhay

        ”many hoped for a more democratic, slightly more religious society but never a Theocracy”

        I am trying to understand your statement Emma. You will obviously know more having lived in that cradle of sweetness and niceness.

        How exactly do you calibrate democracy and theocracy so that you get the right mix of democracy and religiosity? That math is very hard.

        The sort of people they were cheering on were actually quite transparent in what their vision and political leanings were – I am talking of Khomeini and his cohorts. Their writings are very transparent. You know precisely what you will get when that character gets power.

        I am sorry to hear about your personal loss.

        • emma2000

          Hi Abhay,
          I will try and explain as I saw it at the time. There is no doubt that the revolution came from the grass roots, the middle classes supported it but what they said they wanted was more democracy and less American crassness and there was some as the contracts were paid by numbers, (warm bodies) at the lower levels so little care about the quality. I admit we tended only to know the professionals and middle classes though as it progressed we got to know some of the drivers quite well so got some different views. Many seemed to think, despite all the rhetoric, that Khomeni would be a benign father figure who would bring more decency and oversee some democratic change. The students I knew thought that, some I met later when we got home, sadly disillusioned. I will never forget the chanting from the mosque on these Fridays or the mortars being thrown in down town Teheran. I was there when Khomeni came back, when the army refused to fire that was the end. Maybe some people did know Khomeni meant what he said but it was not the impression I had at the time. I don’t know what it is like now but I will always remember the people, the wine, lovely parks and having tea in the mountains, One memory always makes me smile, at the height of the riots we got an orange cab and the driver asked if we were American as the Chador clad ladies would not share. We said we were Scottish and after he told them that was fine! for some reason he thought we were fighting England for independence, this in 1979, also not that long since the world cup when Iran played Scotland. I would still love to go back one day, so many good memories.

          • Abhay

            Thank you, Emma. Your description of events actually does rhyme well with a few books / tracts that I have read on the subject.

            I think they had a multiplicity of forces at work across the left – right spectrum and across the urban – rural divide. Its amazing how an avowed theocrat gained the upper hand in the days of tumult. Many of his supporters later regretted their folly and how they misunderstood him.

            The incredible thing is that Khomeini was not even a nationalist and thought quite low of Iranian (Persian?) nationalism. He was a pan-Islamist, a theocratic imperialist. I am quite amazed how the hard left sections of Iranians trusted him. The problem Khomeini had was that being a Shia, his brand of Islam was a heresy in much of the Sunni world (the overwhelming majority of Islamic world).

            In Iran, at a certain level of consciousness, there is a tussle between hard nationalism (Persian) and Islamism.

            • emma2000

              I studied German History before the war and they made the same mistake, policitians thought they could use Hitler’s populist appeal and then control him and we all know how that ended. You are correct that the rural and uneducated probably did get what they wanted, I remember a driver telling me that it would be an Islamic State. I couldn’t imagine that but of course he was correct and resistance was ruthlessly crushed before people even realised what was happening or so the exiled Iranians I met later said.

    • andagain

      Iranians are some of the nicest, moderate people you will ever meet but are governed by some crack pots.

      If the crackpots are the ones with their fingers on the triggers, what does it matter what everyone else thinks?

      • Abhay

        That is a stupid, brain-dead statement that guy has made.

        • Count Dooku

          It looks like you’ve both missed my point. Unlike in Saudi or Pakistan where the general population are Islamic nutters, Iran, like Turkey, has a very large moderate (almost secular) population. They enjoy all the vices of the west, are often very well educated and are entrepreneurial.
          I may be naive but think there’s hope in the long term of having them as an ally. After all they were a British protectorate before the revolution.

          • chan chan

            So why do 83% of them favour sharia law? Just asking..

    • 2trueblue

      72% out voting for them, they made their choice. It puts our electorate to shame who can’t be bothered to get out and vote, but expect the country to be governed and their affairs to be looked after.

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Maybe they don’t think voting for the LibLabCon clones will make any difference?

        • 2trueblue


      • Abhay

        Presumably, you have made your plans to relocate to Isfahan to live and breathe in the new democracy?

        Please do that quick. There may be a long queue at the ticket counter.

        • agthagola Dastangul

          I worked in Iran after revolution, and those people gave me a lot of respect, and will not hesitate to go and work again. I can verify that they are one of the nicest people on planet specially if your are from other land.

          Once Me and my friends (all foreigners) were travelling during over vacations in two care around Caspian see. One of our driver hit a new “Mercedes Benz” of an Iranian. This guy came out furious to confront us because of damage to his car, but then he asked us “Are you foreigners?) and we replied yes. He said then “it is no big deal and would you like to have a meal at my home?. Remember they do not have insurance system for cars as in Western countries, so this guy certainly repaired his car by his own money.
          I have worked in three continents including Asia, Europe and America and testify that Iranians are indeed one of the best and friendly people.

          • Abhay

            Please relocate to Iran and enjoy the niceness.

        • 2trueblue

          What part of your brain reads that as a wish to relocate?

          • Abhay

            Thought you loved their democracy and exercise of choice etc? If you don’t, that’s fine. Stay put.

            • 2trueblue

              They got out and used their vote, that is all. Something that those who live in a free and democratic country are not motivated to do. Nothing more.

    • Abhay

      What a sweet friend you have!

      Can you please ask your Iranian friend that if the political gulf between the ‘nicest moderate people’ and ‘crack-pots’ govt is so wide (as he would have you believe) why have the ‘nicest’ people been tolerating the ‘crack-pots’ for 34 years in power?

      • the viceroy’s gin

        Well, the mullahs have never been shy about killing their enemies, for one thing.

    • Tim Chiswell

      Absolutely agree – Ive met quite a few Iranians over the years, and ‘nicest, moderate people’ is a very fair description.
      As you rightly point out though – you’d never know that simply from watching or reading the media here in Europe.

  • Bluesman_1

    Yeah! people power – Iran on path to Secular democracy. Yay. Come on this baloon only “won” because the head arsewipes let him; I wonder why?

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