Jubilation in Iran as moderate cleric brings hope of change

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 June, 2013, 11:12am
UPDATED : Monday, 17 June, 2013, 5:58am

"Goodbye Ahmadinejad, you won't be missed," the women in black chadors shouted.

They were among the hundreds of thousands of Iranians who flocked to the streets to celebrate the end of eight years of hardline conservative rule after moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani, 65, was elected president on Saturday night.

In major cities such as Tehran and Esfahan, streams of honking vehicles blocked main streets while people danced and cheered. They sang and called for the release of political opponents jailed by incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was constitutionally barred from standing again after serving two terms.

"The political prisoners jailed under Ahmadinejad should be freed immediately," said a woman in Esfahan.

Rowhani won the election outright, securing 18.6 million votes, or 50.6 per cent. But the campaign was far from clean.

A driver called Ardi said his family in Tehran had been paid the equivalent of HK$80 to vote for a certain candidate, otherwise they would not have bothered to take part.

"It doesn't matter whom I vote for anyway, it will not change much," Ardi said. "The result is already decided by religious leaders before the election."

The ultimate authority in the country is Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader.

But tour operator Admadi said he was hopeful about the new administration. "People are scared of visiting Iran because they read bad things about us in the media. This is not good for business." he said. "The election is very important for us. I believe everything will get better."

An English teacher, Mohammad, said he hoped that international sanctions against Iran would be lifted soon under a more open administration, but he said most Iranians supported the government's plan to develop nuclear energy.

During the election campaign, many foreign travellers had trouble getting visas. Internet censorship was tightened, with access to Facebook, Gmail and foreign media sites such as BBC blocked.

Election posters could be seen everywhere in the main cities and the government displayed adverts on the street and television urging people to vote.