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What to know about Masoud Pezeshkian, Iran’s next president

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Reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian, who advocates moderate policies at home and limited engagement with the West, has won Iran’s presidential election, defeating prominent ultraconservative Saeed Jalili.

Pezeshkian won after the vote went to a runoff Friday in a contest that has been defined by low turnout figures. Iranian state media announced the results early Saturday morning. Turnout on Friday stood at 50 percent, just slightly higher than last week’s historic low of 40 percent.

Pezeshkian, who was little-known outside Iran before the presidential campaign, was the sole reformist approved to run. He netted 16.3 million votes, according to the country’s election headquarters, almost 3 million more than Jalili, his nearest rival, who trailed behind with about 13.5 million. The snap election was triggered by the death of Ebrahim Raisi in a May helicopter crash.

The victory for Pezeshkian delivers a significant defeat to Iran’s ultraconservative party at a critical time for the country as it faces heightened regional tensions and a standoff with the West over its nuclear program.

Conservatives dominated the ballot in the initial snap election and endorsed Jalili once the vote went to a runoff, making him the favorite to win Friday, according to some analysts. But Pezeshkian appears to have mobilized broader support, appealing to moderate conservatives and generating higher turnout within his base.

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A cardiac surgeon and veteran of the Iran-Iraq war who served in Parliament and as Iran’s health minister, Pezeshkian rose to power within Iran’s parliament by pushing for limited change but never challenging the country’s system of theocratic rule under Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader.

While campaigning for president, he advocated limited social and economic reforms and engagement with the United States over Iran’s nuclear program to lift sanctions that have crippled the economy. Pezeshkian’s supporters cite his heritage as an Azeri, one of Iran’s ethnic minorities, as one of the reasons they say he can act as a unifying force in the country.

“I will do everything possible to look at those who were not seen by the powerful and whose voices are not heard. We will make poverty, discrimination, war, lies and corruption disappear from this country,” he said during a campaign rally this week.

He pledged to bridge what he described as the “gap” in Iran between the people and the government.

Pezeshkian’s victory shows he was able to expand his base of support, pulling from both the reformist and conservative ranks, said Mehrzad Boroujerdi, an Iran analyst and dean at Missouri University of Science and Technology.

But once in office, Iran’s conservatives might frustrate the plans Pezeshkian set out during his campaign.

“The conservatives will try to create obstacles from day one,” Boroujerdi said. “He won’t have much of a honeymoon. … They will apply the brakes to whatever Pezeshkian will try to do.”

Pezeshkian’s victory was a narrow one, and voter turnout remained near historic lows — limiting the strength of his mandate and demonstrating the depth of public apathy.

In a surprise admission, Iran’s supreme leader addressed concerns about low voter turnout in remarks broadcast by state-backed media on Wednesday.

“If the people demonstrate better participation in the elections, the Islamic Republic system will be able to achieve its words, intentions, and goals both within the country and also in the broader strategic expectations of the country,” Khamenei said in a summary of the remarks posted to X.

Iran’s clerical rulers see high turnout as key to their legitimacy at a time when they are facing both domestic and regional crises.

Across the Middle East — from Gaza to Lebanon and Yemen — armed groups allied with Iran are attacking Israel and its backers, threatening American military bases and disrupting global shipping lanes. In April, after an Israeli attack on an Iranian diplomatic building in Damascus, Syria, Tehran launched its first direct military attack on Israel, bringing a years-long shadow war into the open.

At home, many Iranians are still reeling from the brutal government crackdown on nationwide protests that erupted in 2022, following the death of Mahsa Amini, a young Kurdish woman, in the custody of the widely reviled “morality police.”

In the uprising’s aftermath, the regime doubled down, sentencing some protesters to death and increasing penalties for women who disobey its strict dress codes.

Amid simmering social unrest and a deepening economic crisis, the presidential campaign featured some rare acknowledgment of the challenges faced by the country’s ruling class — a sign, analysts say, of how serious those challenges have become.

“It has reached a stage where it is just impossible to overlook it,” said Ali Vaez, the Iran project director for the International Crisis Group. “The gap between the state and the society has reached a stage where it cannot just be painted over.”

When asked about women’s rights and the harsh enforcement of the hijab law, Pezeshkian said he agreed with the mandatory dress code and said all of the women in his family wear the chador, a long, loose black cloak that covers the entire body from head to toe. But he also questioned the way female dress codes are enforced in Iran.

“The view that women are second-rate citizens and are created only for the sake of the family is something that needs to change,” he said during a presidential debate. “Women [exist along] with men in the economy, in science and in industry, and we should return them to their position.”

Frances Vinall contributed to this report.



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