Iran’s Supreme Leader Is Worried

Published in the Atlantic

Iran has taken a turn that hardly anyone could have seen coming a few short months ago. For years, Iran’s reformist faction has languished in the political wilderness, banished there by hard-liners more aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and by a disillusioned electorate convinced that its votes did not matter. Few imagined this year that the reformists were about to make a comeback and elect a president for the first time since 2001. Yet on July 5, this is precisely what happened.

Masud Pezeshkian, a physician and longtime member of Parliament, defeated the ultra-hard-liner Saeed Jalili in a runoff with 54.8 percent of the vote. Turnout was extraordinarily low in the first round and only somewhat higher in the second, according to the official numbers—meaning that Pezeshkian will become president with a smaller share of eligible voters than any other president in the history of the Islamic Republic. For many of those who did come out, the main motivation was not love for Pezeshkian, but fear of his rival.

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