GWEN IFILL: 22 years after Islamic militants took over Iran and imposed theocratic rule, the people have re-elected a reformist president. Mohammad Khatami's victory was no surprise, but the margin was. The moderate cleric won 77 percent of the vote on Friday, surpassing the 70 percent total he captured four years ago. Turnout was 67 percent, down from 90 percent in 1997. And there were still separate lines for men and women voters.
But the Khatami presidency has brought much change for women, easing rules on dress, makeup and appearing in public with men. Young people have also rallied for Khatami. 15-year-olds can vote, and two-thirds of the country's citizens are under 25. These voters have no memory of 1979, the year of the Islamic revolution that displaced the U.S.-supported shah, and the year militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran, taking 52 Americans hostage. Washington severed ties with Iran after that, and imposed economic sanctions, most of which remain today.
The revolution also consolidated power in the hands of unelected Muslim clerics, led today by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His title is supreme leader and he's considered God's representative on earth. Khamenei and the clerics, who make up the Council of Guardians, control the police and the military. They can overrule both the president and the parliament and have jailed prominent activists and shut down 40 newspapers.
Nevertheless, President Khatami ran on his reform agenda in this year's campaign, a campaign limited by law to 20 days. Khatami envisioned what he called a religious democracy, where Islam and individual rights can coexist. He also called for Iranians to have greater rights to criticize leaders, for judges to be more accountable to the people and for more foreign investment. Khatami's ideas enjoy sufficient support among the masses, that his nine challengers, all conservatives, also agreed on the need for some of those reforms. At a final campaign rally, nearly a thousand actors and artists showed up in support of Khatami.
WOMAN: I want to vote for him.
REPORTER: Why do you like him?
WOMAN: For his thinking, for he is doing for my society. Freedom.
GWEN IFILL: But Khatami's Iran faces obstacles abroad. The State Department still considers Iran an active state sponsor of terrorism, largely because of its support of the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah. And U.S. officials have said Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities. President Khatami will form a new government in about two months.