Iranian President Hassan Rouhani earned an emphatic vote of confidence and reformist partners secured surprise gains in parliament in early results from elections that could accelerate the Islamic Republic’s emergence from years of isolation.
While gains by moderates and reformists in Friday’s polls were most evident in the capital, Tehran, the sheer scale of the advances there suggests a legislature more friendly to the pragmatist Rouhani has emerged as a distinct possibility.
A loosening of control by the anti-Western hardliners who currently dominate the 290-seat parliament could strengthen his hand to open Iran further to foreign trade and investment following last year’s breakthrough nuclear deal.
“The people showed their power once again and gave more credibility and strength to their elected government,” Rouhani said, adding he would work with anyone who won election to build a future for the industrialised, oil-exporting country.
The polls were seen by analysts as a potential turning point for Iran, where nearly 60 percent of its 80 million population is under 30 and eager to engage with the world following the lifting of most sanctions.
Millions crowded polling stations on Friday to vote for parliament and the Assembly of Experts, which selects the country’s highest authority, the supreme leader. Both bodies have been in the hands of hardliners for years.
Supporters of Rouhani, who promoted the nuclear deal, were pitted against hardliners close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who are wary of detente with Western countries.