In a striking repudiation of the ultraconservatives who wield power in Iran, voters here overwhelmingly elected a mild-mannered cleric who advocates greater personal freedoms and a more conciliatory approach to the world.
The cleric, Hassan Rowhani, 64, won a commanding 50.7 percent of the vote in the six-way race, according to final results released Saturday, avoiding a runoff in the race to replace the departing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose tenure was defined largely by confrontation with the West and a seriously hobbled economy at home.
Thousands of jubilant supporters poured into the streets of Tehran, dancing, blowing car horns and waving placards and ribbons of purple, Mr. Rowhani’s campaign color. After the previous election in 2009, widely seen as rigged, many Iranians were shaking their heads that their votes were counted this time.
What happened was quite simple. The reformers rallied behind one candidate while the conservatives split. But even the conservatives combined only grabbed about a third of the vote. The result was so overwhelming that even the Iranian government couldn’t steal this one.
Now we shouldn’t get carried away here. Power in Iran still rests with Ayatollah Khamenei and his mullahs. This may only serve to give a respectable veneer to their regime. They will temper any attempt by Rowhani to reform Iran. The nuclear program will go on. However, if the message of the last election was not heard, this has to be: the Iranian people are growing tired of being cut off from the world and controlled by a bunch of 70-year-old religious fanatics.
At some point, the mullahs are going to have to give in just a little bit. And when that happens, it may be the damn breaking. For the past 12 years, I have been thinking that Iran was about 10 years away from turning into an ally. Now I’ll say it’s about nine years away from being an ally. This is a tiny step. Let’s not confuse it with a revolution. But it’s a step.