Iranian centrist candidate Hassan Rouhani won the Islamic republic's presidential election Saturday after campaigning on a "hope and prudence" platform in which he appealed to traditional conservatives and reform-minded voters alike.
Rouhani spoke of reforms without threatening Iran's supreme leader or its institutions, of which he is product. The former national security council chief promised an environment with greater personal freedoms and even indicated he would free political prisoners and jailed journalists.
In his campaigning, Rouhani also pledged to improve the economy and unemployment, and as a former nuclear negotiator, he said he would reduce the high tension between Iran and the outside world by addressing sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program.
Young and old Iranians continued their celebration of his victory as Saturday became the early minutes of Sunday. They honked horns and flashed victory signs with their fingers.
In a message through the semiofficial Fars News Agency, the 65-year-old Rouhani thanked God "that once again the sun of rationality and moderation is shining over Iran again to send the voice of unity and cohesion of this nation to the world."
He cited "all moderates, all reformists, and all principlists."
"This victory is the victory of wisdom, moderation, growth and awareness, the victory of commitment and religiosity over extremism and ill tempers," Rouhani said.
In a sign of how the West is interested in how much change Rouhani could bring to Iran, the British Foreign Office immediately called upon Rouhani to set a new course for the country.
"We call on him to use the opportunity to set Iran on a different course for the future: addressing international concerns about Iran's nuclear program, taking forward a constructive relationship with the international community, and improving the political and human rights situation for the people of Iran," a Foreign Office spokesman said.
The administration of President Barack Obama hopes "the Iranian government will heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices that create a better future for all Iranians," a White House spokesman said.
"The United States remains ready to engage the Iranian government directly in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community's concerns about Iran's nuclear program," the press secretary's statement added.
While the White House respected the vote, it charged that the election occurred "against the backdrop of a lack of transparency, censorship of the media, Internet, and text messages, and an intimidating security environment that limited freedom of expression and assembly."
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon offered his congratulations and called on Iran to take a "constructive role in regional and international affairs."
In Syria, an opposition coalition in that country's two-year civil war said it hoped Rouhani would end Iran's support of President Bashar al-Assad's regime.
"With its continued support for Assad, Iran has used all political, military, and economic means to block Syrians from achieving democracy and freedom," the Syrian Coalition said in a statement from Istanbul, Turkey.
"The Syrian Coalition also hopes that Iran recognizes the Syrian people's plight for free elections, rights and freedoms and that it halts all support to the oppressive Assad regime," the group said.
High turnout reported
Iranian officials reported a high turnout, with nearly 73% of some 50 million registered voters -- men and women, young and old -- turning out, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad-Najjar announced Saturday.
The lines extended into the streets at times Friday, as voters waited to pick their choice to succeed two-term President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the country's 11th presidential election.
Rouhani takes Ahmadinejad's mantle as one of the country's most visible figures, at a time when it is dealing with painful economic sanctions tied to international concern about its nuclear program.
But he won't be Iran's most powerful man. That distinction belongs to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been Iran's supreme leader since 1989. He's got plenty of backing, from conservative citizens to loyalist militia groups to, most notably, the Revolutionary Guard.
Rouhani has all-round credentials in Iran's institutions that include senior cleric, former commander of Iranian air defenses and is an intellectual with three law degrees, including from a university in Scotland.
He has a reputation for shunning extreme positions and bridging differences.
While he has represented Khamenei on Iran's security council since 1989, he has avoided being perceived as a pushover and has taken exception with the supreme leader on being too rigid toward the international community, according to an Iranian scholar at Stanford University.
Rouhani has accused state-run media of censorship and publishing lies.