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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani Wins Re-Election By Wide Margin


We're going to stick with the Middle East for a few more minutes. Iranians have returned their centrist president, Hassan Rouhani, to office by a large margin. Official figures give Rouhani a 57 percent to 38 percent win over conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi. That's despite the fact that the 68-year-old Rouhani has been largely unable to deliver economic improvements to the Iranian people. We'll hear more from NPR's Peter Kenyon, who's in Tehran. Peter, welcome. Thanks so much for talking to us.


MARTIN: So what kinds of reactions are you hearing?

KENYON: Well, a lot of reactions. Here's a sample. I'll open the window here.


KENYON: That is the sound of very elated Hassan Rouhani supporters. They're very excited that their guy is back in power for another four years. And they are really happy about the size of the margin. He still, as you mentioned, hasn't really delivered on the first-term promises. And now he's got a bunch more promises to live up to, such as getting other sanctions lifted. But still, the people here seem to see him as the best option. He gave his first comments this evening, and he said he took this vote as a repudiation of any return to the previous conservative policies. Here's what he said through an interpreter.


PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: (Through interpreter) Those who wanted us to return to the past or wanted to keep us in the present condition, you - the people who cast their ballots, they said no to those people. And you made progress forward.

MARTIN: Could you talk a little bit more about what the voters said and why they continue to support him?

KENYON: Yeah. I met a 30-year-old woman, Nargis Shahari (ph), today outside of central Tehran shop. And she says she likes Rouhani. She thinks he's done a few things. But the main point of her and her friends was not to let the hard-liners, known here as Principlists, back into power because they thought that would be a disaster. Here's a bit of what she said, also through an interpreter.

NARGIS SHAHARI: (Through interpreter) We also knew very well that should Raisi win the game he would bring the same people that were of the Principlist camp, which would drive the country backward.

KENYON: Now, there's some hope here that with Rouhani's win there's going to be a signal sent outwards to other countries of stability, continuity, no big surprises, whereas if Ebrahim Raisi had won there might have been fresh confrontations either here in the region or with the West.

MARTIN: Peter, it sounds, though, that there's an element of relief in this win and perhaps even a bit of surprise. Why is that?

KENYON: Well, yes, I'd say that's true. Even though there were expectations of a Rouhani win - incumbents tend to win here - you can't take anything for granted in Iranian elections. The candidates are very carefully selected by a panel of conservatives. The voters really only get their say on election day. And this time it looks like it was a big turnout from a largely young and urban population. And that gave Rouhani even more votes than he had in 2013. Then he only got 51 percent of the vote.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Peter, this election in Iran comes as President Trump is visiting Saudi Arabia. And he's bringing a big arms deal with him. Is that being talked about there?

KENYON: Oh, very much so. And the visit is being watched closely here. Iranians say they think the Saudis are going to try to push Trump to be confrontational with Iran. And they think you'll get the same message when he visits Israel on his next stop. There's this review in Washington of the nuclear deal. The - Congress may take up legislation with more sanctions in it against Iran. So this term is not going to be easy. And there's also the hard-liners here who are now nursing their wounds but may be planning some revenge attacks for later.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Peter Kenyon reporting from Tehran. Peter, thank you.

KENYON: Thanks, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.