July 9, 2024

Masoud Pezeshkian Victory: A President Aiming for Internal Consensus and Engagement with the West

Week of July 8, 2024 | Iran Unfiltered is a digest tracking Iranian politics & society by the National Iranian American Council 

Masoud Pezeshkian emerged victorious in the July 5 Iranian presidential election, securing 53.6% of the vote and defeating his main rival, Saeed Jalili, who received 44.34%. The voter turnout in the second round run-off of the top two candidates was reported to be 49%, with Pezeshkian receiving over 2.8 million more votes than Jalili. The margin of Pezeshkian’s victory is the narrowest in the history of Iran’s presidential elections. 

According to the Iranian Ministry of Interior, 30,530,157 people participated in the second round of the election, with Pezeshkian obtaining 16,384,403 votes. Jalili, the other candidate in the runoff, received 13,538,179 votes. Additionally, 607,575 invalid votes were recorded. The Ministry’s statistics indicate that the turnout in the second round was approximately 49%.

The head of the country’s election headquarters previously announced that 61,452,321 individuals were eligible to vote. The second round saw a notable rise in turnout from the 40% mark set in the first round, which was the lowest participation rate in the history of the Islamic Republic’s presidential elections. Despite a slight increase in turnout in the second round, the participation rate in the 14th presidential election remained one of the lowest, second only to the 2021 election. 

On the campaign trail, Pezeshkian emphasized the necessity of reaching consensus with other branches of power to enact change, diverging from the more confrontational approaches of former presidents Khatami and Rouhani, who faced significant resistance from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and radical factions. Noor News, a website previously aligned with the Supreme National Security Council under Ali Shamkhani, highlighted that Pezeshkian’s government aims to build on and improve the experiences of previous administrations, striving for a distinct governance model under the broader reformist agenda. This model seeks to prioritize economic and social justice, avoid detrimental government interventions in the economy, and foster cooperation with other power centers.

Pezeshkian’s candidacy led to divisions among Iranian political activists. The majority of political prisoners – including Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Zahra Rahnavard, Narges Mohammadi, Saeed Madani, Mostafa Tajzadeh and Bahareh Hedayat – boycotted the elections, along with a large segment of teachers’ and workers’ union activists and many women’s rights activists. However, other political activists such as Keyvan Samimi, Alireza Rajaei, Tahereh Taleghani, Farideh Ghaerat, Mohammad Tavasoli, and nearly all reformist parties decided to participate and supported Pezeshkian’s candidacy.

Satellite TV channels based abroad, including Iran International TV, also provided commentary on the election and featured guests advocating for election boycotts and opposing Pezeshkian. Dr. Alireza Khoshbakht, a political analyst inside Iran, remarked that Iran International operated more like a political party than a media outlet, ultimately failing in its efforts to drive down turnout.

Analysts like Abbas Abdi and Ahmad Zeidabadi have noted that Pezeshkian’s candidacy and subsequent victory could signal a shift in the approach of Iran’s power centers, though acknowledge it is too early to make definitive judgments. According to Abdi, the election results in 1997 and 2013, where candidates won against the wishes of the power structure, were due to miscalculations. The 2019 elections marked the start of a deliberate effort to unify the government, which was completed in 2021 with Raisi’s election.

Abdi argues that this unification policy has failed in three key areas over the past three years. First, voter turnout significantly decreased. For a government born from a revolution and used to high participation rates in elections, this decline is a considerable loss with wide-reaching impacts on all areas of national power. Secondly, after eliminating reformists, deep internal divisions among the unified factions emerged. These factions now undermine each other in significant ways, and their power struggles have become more evident than ever. Thirdly, and most importantly, unification did not improve efficiency but led to a complete failure, evident in poor economic conditions and unfulfilled promises. Additionally, highly restrictive social and cultural policies disrupted public life and significantly increased social tensions.

According to Abdi, the negative consequences are widespread, including strengthening the opposition, increasing public dissatisfaction with the government, weakening religion and revolutionary values, especially among the youth, and losing all past strengths. The country faced two options: continue with the current situation or implement changes to return to normalcy. Continuing current policies seemed impossible, given the evident incapacity of the current government. Therefore, a suitable electoral process for 2025 was needed to revive public hope, a process accelerated by the helicopter crash.

Abdi believes the recent electoral structure, which appeared to favor Pezeshkian, was not a miscalculation. Approving a candidate with the capacity to win, who was previously disqualified in 2021 but took clear positions during the 2022 protests and was later approved, was a deliberate and necessary choice, not a risky or erroneous one.

Despite Pezeshkian’s emphasis on improving Iran’s foreign relations, lifting sanctions, and negotiating with the West, his victory was met with a lukewarm response from Western governments. The European Union’s spokesperson, Nabila Massrali, extended a cautious congratulation via Twitter, expressing readiness to work with the new government within the framework of the EU’s policy of critical engagement. Washington’s reaction was even colder and more negative. 

A spokesperson from the U.S. State Department, who remained unnamed, reiterated that the election would not change the U.S. approach toward Iran, emphasizing that their concerns about Iran remain unchanged and that American diplomacy would continue to prioritize U.S. interests. 

National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby even more harshly rejected the notion that the election could lead to a change in the U.S. approach. When asked if the U.S. could engage in new nuclear negotiations, Kirby answered “No.” Then, when pressed to elaborate, Kirby stated “Well, it seems like a pretty easy question to answer. No. We’re not in a position where we’re willing to get back to the negotiating table with Iran, just based on the fact that they’ve elected a new President. They’re still supporting terrorist groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, they’re still supporting the Houthis as the Houthis attack ships in the Red Sea, they’re still attacking shipping as well, and they’re still supplying drones and drone technology and drone expertise to the Russians so that the Russians can continue to kill innocent Ukrainians like they did over the weekend.” When asked if they saw any degree of difference with Pezeshkian, Kirby concluded, “We’ll see what this guy wants to get done, but we’re not expecting any changes in Iranian behavior, sadly.”

Masoud Pezeshkian is set to officially assume office in September. During his campaign, he assured voters that he understood their problems, including economic issues, energy pricing, and internet censorship. He specifically addressed the need to lift sanctions in an interview with Iran’s state television, stating:

“For me, diplomacy, negotiation, and agreement are not signs of weakness but a sensible and low-cost way to achieve dignity. We no longer have the luxury of stagnation while regional countries are rapidly developing. Our oil revenues should not end up in the hands of smugglers. With sanctions, one can survive but not progress. With widespread voter participation, we will have the strongest bargaining chip in negotiations. With public support, reviving the JCPOA, lifting sanctions, and removing banking obstacles like FATF (Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental body that sets standards to combat money laundering and terrorism financing that Iran has not adhered to) will be possible.”

Pezeshkian also voiced his opposition to the morality police and the “Noor Plan,” criticizing punitive measures against women for not wearing hijab, and emphasized a more compassionate approach, noting: “I do not support improper hijab, but I cannot impose force on girls. I have daughters and cannot be forceful with them; those in the streets are like my daughters.” With these statements, Pezeshkian outlined a forward-leaning vision for Iran’s future, emphasizing economic justice, social harmony, and pragmatic diplomacy. However, many restraints remain between the President-elect and achieving the changes he said he wants to achieve.

Back to top