TEHRAN, Iran – The hardline Tehran mayor steamrolled over one of Iran’s best known statesmen to win the presidency Saturday in a landslide election victory that cements conservative control over the nation’s political leadership.
The outcome capped a stunning upset by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who many reformers fear will take Iran back to the restrictions imposed after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
The Interior Ministry gave Ahmadinejad 62.1 percent of the vote over his relatively more moderate rival, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who had nearly 35.5 percent. The ministry posted a notice in its headquarters declaring Ahmadinejad the winner of Friday’s runoff. The rest of the ballots were deemed invalid.
The figures were based on about 66 percent of the estimated 23 million votes cast, or nearly 49 percent of Iran’s 47 million eligible voters. In last week’s first round of the presidential election, the turnout was close to 63 percent.
The victory gives conservatives control of Iran’s two highest elected offices – the presidency and parliament – and gives a freer hand to the non-elected theocracy, which holds the final word on all important policies.
Clerics led by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei have true power in Iran, able to overrule elected officials. But reformers, who lost parliament in elections last year, had been hoping to retain some hand in government to preserve the greater social freedoms they’ve been able to win, such as looser dress codes, more mixing between the sexes and openings to the West.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore indicated the result would not change the U.S. view of Iran, and what it considered to be a fundamentally flawed election that refused to accept scores of candidates, particularly women.
“With the conclusion of the elections in Iran, we have seen nothing that sways us from our view that Iran is out of step with the rest of the region in the currents of freedom and liberty that have been so apparent in Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon,” Moore said.
Ahmadinejad supporters will go to mosques to hold prayers and to “thank God for this great victory,” said his campaign manager Ali Akbar Javanfekr. But he said no street celebrations are planned.
Ahmadinejad (pronounced “Aah-MA-dee-ni-JAHD”), the 49-year-old mayor of the capital, campaigned as a champion of the poor, a message that resonated with voters in a country where some estimates put unemployment as high as 30 percent. He struck the image of a simple working man against Rafsanjani, a wealthy member of the country’s ruling elite.