Iranian voters elect moderate president

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By: Greg Ellison

Citizens of Iran have elected a new president.

Hassan Rouhani, a centrist candidate, won the election on Saturday. In an attempt to appeal to a wide variety of voters, Rouhani ran on a platform of “hope and prudence.”

Walking a fine line, Rouhani openly supports reforms although not at the expense of upsetting Iran’s supreme leader or its existing institutions. The newly elected president is also focusing attention on increasing personal freedoms, liberating political prisoners and incarcerated journalists, repairing the country’s battered economy while reducing unemployment.

The semiofficial Fars News Agency reported the 65-year-old Rouhani said, “That once again the sun of rationality and moderation is shining over Iran again to send the voice of unity and cohesion of this nation to the world.”

With past work as a nuclear negotiator, Rouhani voiced a desire to diminish tensions between his country and world nations regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

Of the 50 million registered voters, nearly 73 percent made their way to the polls according to Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar.

On Friday voters stood in long lines, many extending into the streets, waiting patiently to choose a successor to two-term President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. This was Iran’s 11th presidential election.

World reaction has been mixed.

The British Foreign Office promptly called for the new president to chart a new course for Iran, saying, “We call on him to use the opportunity to set Iran on a different course for the future: addressing international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program, taking forward a constructive relationship with the international community, and improving the political and human rights situation for the people of Iran.”

The White House expressed their desire that, “the Iranian government will heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices that create a better future for all Iranians.”

“The United States remains ready to engage the Iranian government directly in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” the White House press secretary said in a statement.

While still respecting the vote, the White House claimed the election occurred “against the backdrop of a lack of transparency, censorship of the media, Internet, and text messages, and an intimidating security environment that limited freedom of expression and assembly.”

In neighboring Syria, an opposition coalition in that country’s two-year civil war voiced their hope that Rouhani would end Iran’s support for the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

“With its continued support for Assad, Iran has used all political, military, and economic means to block Syrians from achieving democracy and freedom,” according to a statement issued from Istanbul, Turkey by the Syrian Coalition

Opposition fighters in Syria added, “The Syrian Coalition also hopes that Iran recognizes the Syrian people’s plight for free elections, rights and freedoms and that it halts all support to the oppressive Assad regime.”

Despite the desires of voters, Rouhani is not the most powerful leader in Iran. The title belongs to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been Iran’s supreme leader since 1989. Khamenei retains support from numerous factions inside Iran.

While Rouhani is known for avoiding extremist positions and uniting opposing groups, he has attacked state-run media for censorship.

Outgoing President Ahmadinejad congratulated Rouhani.

“I have always deeply believed in the vast and endless capacities of the Iranian nation for development and greatness,” Ahmadinejad said. “I believe that all peaks of glory can be conquered by believing and trusting in the Iranian nation and by respecting different interests and tastes.”

Poll results showed that Rouhani secured 18.6 million votes — or 50.7% of the 36,704,156 votes tallied.

Iran continues to receive international criticism as voters were presented a limited number of candidates. Iran’s Guardian Council, an unelected body comprised of six clerics and six lawyers responsive to the supreme leader, drew up the narrowed list of candidates. Initially 680 office-seekers registered.

Eight candidates were approved, two of whom later withdrew.

CNN contributed to this story

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