Pezeshkian’s Election Win Is a Double Loss for Iran’s Conservatives

Pezeshkian’s Election Win Is a Double Loss for Iran’s Conservatives
Masoud Pezeshkian raises his clenched fists during a campaign rally ahead of the presidential election, in Tehran, Iran, July 3, 2024 (AP photo by Vahid Salemi).

Pro-reform candidate and long-time parliamentarian Masoud Pezeshkian emerged as the winner of Iran’s closely contested runoff presidential election last Friday, bagging around 53 percent of the votes, compared to 44 percent for conservative hard-liner and former chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. With all the odds stacked against him, few political pundits initially expected Pezeshkian would prevail when he was included among the vetted candidates for the first-round ballot in late June. Most early analysis and even some public opinion polls indicated the possible victory of current Speaker of Parliament Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf or else Jalili in the first round or the runoff.

But surprises are not unprecedented in Iran’s presidential elections. Pezeshkian owes his victory in large part to the surge in turnout from around 24.5 million, or nearly 40 percent of eligible voters, in the first round to 30.5 million, or nearly 50 percent, in the runoff stage. The 6 million additional ballots in the runoff stage seem to have been mostly cast for Pezeshkian, who went from winning 10.4 million votes in the first round to 16.4 million in the runoff stage. By contrast, Jalili’s vote count increased from 9.5 million in the first round to 13.5 million, nearly equivalent to the combined votes of the conservative candidates in the first round.

This surge in turnout was fueled by the polarized choice between the two candidates who made it through to the runoff round. Jalili’s ideological conservative position presented a sharp contrast to Pezeshkian’s reformist and pragmatic political discourse. Unlike Ghalibaf, who identifies with Iran’s conservative but pragmatic political factions, Jalili represents the puritan revolutionary fringes of Iran’s conservative political camp, whose domestic political and foreign policy discourses clashed more sharply with those of Pezeshkian.

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