Iran’s New President: Reformist Masoud Pezeshkian Defeats Hardliners in Unexpected Victory

TEHRAN, Iran – Masoud Pezeshkian, a reformist candidate, emerged victorious in Iran’s presidential election, surprising many in the country amid social unrest, economic challenges, and regional conflicts. Pezeshkian garnered 16.3 million votes, according to local reports, in an election that saw a 49.8% voter turnout. His competitor, Saeed Jalili, a hard-line conservative and former nuclear negotiator, secured 13.5 million votes in the race.

The 69-year-old Pezeshkian managed to defeat several conservative candidates, despite being labeled as a “token reformist” and a lesser-known contender. Previously serving as the Minister of Health under Iran’s last reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, from 1997 to 2005, Pezeshkian garnered endorsements from Khatami and other reformist politicians. He has been a member of parliament since 2008, currently serving as the vice speaker of parliament, and aims to ease social restrictions such as Iran’s strict hijab law while seeking to improve relations with Western nations and potentially restarting nuclear negotiations with global powers.

The election outcome raises the stakes for Iran, the United States, and the broader Middle East, especially as Iran inches closer to nuclear capabilities and backs proxy groups involved in conflicts with Israel. However, despite potential shifts in domestic and foreign policies with a reformist president, the ultimate power and decision-making authority in Iran lies with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and unelected institutions like the Revolutionary Guards.

While Pezeshkian’s victory may signal opportunities for diplomatic engagements and incremental domestic reforms, the overarching power structures in Iran are likely to limit significant transformative changes. The election occurred following the untimely death of former President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash in May, with Iran’s electoral process criticized for lacking fairness and openness, as the ultra-conservative Guardian Council controls who can run for office, leading to limited choices for voters.

With only six candidates approved to run for presidency out of 80 registrants, including no female candidates, and the sanctioning of three candidates by Western governments, the election highlighted the controlled nature of Iran’s political landscape. Despite the hope for gradual changes under Pezeshkian’s administration, the fundamental principles guiding Iran’s strategic decisions remain deeply rooted in existing power structures, suggesting that transformative shifts may be gradual rather than immediate.