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Iran election: Reformist lawmaker Masoud Pezeshkian wins presidential race

Iranian reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian has won the country’s presidential election, defeating principlist Saeed Jalili in the run-off on Friday.

Pezeshkian received around 56 percent of total votes, with 16.3 million votes to Jalili’s 13.5 million.

Approximately 30 million people, or 49.8 percent of Iran’s eligible voters, participated in the second round of the election.

The first round last week saw the lowest turnout since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with only 40 percent of voters heading to the polls.

Iran called early presidential elections to replace principlist Ebrahim Raisi after he died in a helicopter crash last month.

The election occurred amid widespread discontent among Iranians in the sanctions-hit country following years of economic crises and social crackdowns.

The low turnout in the first round led Pezeshkian to state that people “do not accept” the current ruling elite.

While Pezeshkian did not promise radical reforms to Iran’s theocratic method of government, which holds Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei as the final arbiter in significant matters, he pledged to make changes.

The reformist candidate said he would reach out to the West, contrasting Jalili’s strong support for deepening ties with Russia and China.

Pezeshkian also promised to ease restrictions on Iran’s mandatory headscarf law, which sparked mass anti-government protests and a violent government crackdown in late 2022.

“We will respect the hijab law, but there should never be any intrusive or inhumane behaviour toward women,” he said during the first round of the election.

The 69-year-old reformist will preside over an Iranian parliament still largely held by principlists. His election also comes as Israel’s war on Gaza rages on after a Hamas-led attack on 7 October. 

Hamas, the Palestinian group part of the Iran-backed “axis of resistance”, is engaged in fierce fighting against Israel. Meanwhile, the Lebanese group Hezbollah, Iran’s strongest ally, is engaged in lower-level skirmishes with fears of a wider war still looming.

Western states remain concerned about Iran advancing its nuclear programme, with negotiations on the matter having reached a stall.

Iran’s new president is not expected to cause significant policy shifts on the nuclear file or the backing of armed groups in the Middle East.

However, he can influence the tone of domestic and foreign policy while managing the government’s day-to-day affairs.