Rowhani has a reputation as a moderate who rejected Ahmadinejad’s combative approach in world affairs in favor of the more nuanced philosophy.
Moderate cleric Hasan Rowhani took a commanding lead in Iran’s presidential election based on early results, Iranian Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar announced early on Saturday.
Of 826,649 valid votes cast at 1,631 polling stations across the country, Rowhani received 401,949, with his closest competitor, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, getting 126,896 votes, Najjar said on state television.
In third place was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, with 119,294 votes, followed closely by Mohsen Rezaie, a former head of the elite Revolutionary Guard, with 109,089 votes.
Trailing the field were former Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati with 55,990 votes, and little-known former minister Mohammad Gharazi with 13,431 votes.
Polling stations stayed open for up to five hours later than planned as millions of Iranians turned out to cast their votes. An announcement of initial results by the Interior Ministry, scheduled for around 1:30 a.m. local time, was then postponed by several hours.
Authorities had earlier estimated a turnout of over 70 percent. If accurate, the votes counted so far would represent less than 2.5 percent of total votes cast.
Just weeks after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election victory in 2005, Rowhani stepped down from his post as Iran’s top nuclear negotiator after quarrelsome meetings with the new president.
The decision cemented Rowhani’s reputation as a moderate who rejected Ahmadinejad’s combative approach in world affairs in favor of the more nuanced philosophy of Ahmadinejad’s leading political foe, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Rafsanjani was rejected by Iran’s election guardians from Friday’s presidential ballot. But for many reformists and liberals in Iran, the 64-year-old Rowhani is somewhat of a mirror image of the elder Rafsanjani by reflecting his outlook that Iran can maintain its nuclear program and ease tensions with the West at the same time.
“Rafsanjani was really the only choice to re-energize reformists,” said Rasool Nafisi, an Iranian affairs analyst at Strayer University in Virginia. “Rowhani only got their support because he is seen as Rafsanjani’s man and a vote for Rowhani was a vote for Rafsanjani.”
This deep connection between the two men could give a potential Rowhani presidency a dual nature: Rowhani as the public face and Rafsanjani behind the scenes as its powerful godfather and protector.