Moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani has won Iran's presidential election, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar announced on state television yesterday.
Najjar said 72 per cent of the more than 50.5 million Iranians eligible to vote had turned at polling stations, and that Rowhani had secured just over the threshold 50 per cent of the vote required to avoid a run-off.
He was well ahead of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf with about 16.5 per cent. Hard-line nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili came in third with 11.3 per cent.
The withdrawal of the sole reformist from the race had left the field open for Rowhani to win the votes of moderates and reformists and secure a big lead over his divided hardline opponents.
In the run-up to Ahmadinejad's disputed 2009 re-election, official election results were quickly released. But in this campaign, counting has been time consuming. Interior minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said electoral staff would not "compromise accuracy for speed".
Almost two-thirds of all Iranians were eligible to vote for a successor to Ahmadinejad, who after serving two consecutive terms was constitutionally barred from standing for office again. Voters turned out in massive numbers, with Rowhani benefitting from the withdrawal last week of the only reformist candidate Mohammad Reza Aref. Aref, a former first vice-president, pulled out of the race last Tuesday at the urging of former reformist president Mohammad Khatami, who then threw his weight behind Rowhani.
In 2003, during Rowhani's tenure as the country's top nuclear negotiator under Khatami, Iran agreed to suspend its controversial enrichment of uranium. It was restarted two years later after Ahmadinejad became president.
Iran has been at loggerheads with world powers over its nuclear programme, which the West suspects is aimed at developing atomic weapons. The West has imposed harsh economic sanctions and isolated Tehran.
While campaigning, Rowhani promised to act to ease those sanctions, which have hobbled the economy. Inflation is running at more than 30 per cent, the Iranian currency, the rial, has lost nearly 70 per cent of its value, and unemployment is rising.
"We expect the new president to improve the economy so that it gets better and better," said resident Farshid Hassan Zade.
Rowhani, who has close ties with moderate ex-president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, had also campaigned on his relations with supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final decision on all key state issues.
Additional reporting by Bloomberg