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Iran re-elects President Hassan Rouhani

May 20, 2017 at 4:56 PM EDT
Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has been easily re-elected to a second four-year term, capturing 57 percent of the vote in a race that has implications for wars in Syria and Yemen. He’s considered a moderate who sought the nuclear disarmament and sanction-lifting deal with the U.S. and other world powers. From Tehran, journalist Reza Sayah joins via Skype Alison Stewart to discuss.
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ALISON STEWART, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has been easily re-elected to a second four- year-term, capturing 57 percent of the vote in a multi-candidate field. Voting hours were extended yesterday to accommodate long lines. Seventy percent of eligible voters turned out.

The 68-year-old Rouhani is considered a moderate, who sought the nuclear disarmament and sanction-lifting deal with the U.S. and other world powers.

In a speech on state-run TV today, he called his win, quote, a victory for peace and friendship and against violence.

His re-election also has implications for the wars in Syria and Yemen.

Joining me via Skype from Tehran to discuss this is journalist Reza Sayah.

Reza, President Rouhani won decisively, and this is especially interesting because his biggest challenger was a very conservative candidate. Why did he win this way?

REZA SAYAH, JOURNALIST: Yes, I think for the voters who came to the polls yesterday, this election presented two very different candidates. On one hand, you had Hassan Rouhani, the moderate reformist. He, of course, is the president who in 2015 signed the historic nuclear deal.

His approach, his sales was just — let’s continue down this path. We’re on the right path, and even though the economy hasn’t improved, we’re on the right course.

And then you had his leading challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, the hard-line conservative. He essentially accused Mr. Rouhani as failing to deliver on the promise of benefits of the nuclear agreement, of being part of the financial elite, the wealthy elite ignoring the poor. He has a very populist agenda. And his message was: Iran needs to look back within its own resources, its natural resources, its human resources, its Islamic revolutionary values to get the country back going again.

STEWART: Was it the young people who made the difference?

SAYAH: Yes, I think the young people were a factor. Of course, Iran’s population is very young. Roughly 70 percent under the age of 35.

The young population here wants a more affordable life, they want better jobs, they want to be able to get married, buy a car, buy a home and they simply haven’t been able to do that. And now, it’s to Mr. Rouhani in the next four years to deliver some of those benefits.

STEWART: From what you can tell, did the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States have an impact on the Iranian election?

SAYAH: I think it did. Listen, the economy was the number one issue. When it comes to the economy, relations with the international community, with the West, with the U.S. is going to be a factor. And I think what’s made things very difficult for Mr. Rouhani is Mr. Trump’s very tough stance against Iran, essentially he came in threatening to tear up the nuclear deal. Now, he’s made moves that suggest that he’s going to maintain want nuclear deal.

STEWART: Iran is involved in two proxy wars, one in Yemen, one in Syria, supporting Bashar al-Assad. Will Rouhani stay the course there?

SAYAH: I think so. I think these are very important allies within the region. Iran’s position is, when it comes allies that are in the neighborhood, in the region, it’s their — it’s their duty to protect their interests, and, of course, their interests include Syria, Iraq, and Yemen.

STEWART: Reporting from Tehran — Reza Sayah, thank you so much.

SAYAH: You’re welcome.

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