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Reformist candidate Masoud Pezeshkian won Iran’s presidential runoff over the weekend on promises of social freedoms and increased engagement with the West, a victory that underscored calls for change in the Islamic Republic amid disillusionment with the current theocratic regime, the Washington Post reported.

Pezeshkian won nearly 54 percent in Friday’s second round of voting, beating his hardline rival, Saeed Jalili, who won around 44 percent.

On Saturday, the president-elect vowed to be a leader for “all Iranians” and pledged to pursue peace and “constructive” global interactions. He emphasized government reform and accountability amid widespread public apathy and low voter turnout of 50 percent.

A cardiac surgeon and former health minister, Pezeshkian has proposed moderate reforms that would not challenge the country’s theocratic rule under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei: These proposals include lifting internet restrictions and increasing financial transparency to remove Iran from the Financial Action Task Force blacklist.

He also advocated ending mandatory dress codes for women, reflecting the unrest that gripped Iran between 2022 and 2023. The mass anti-government demonstrations began after the death of Mahsa Amini, who died in September 2022 in the custody of the country’s morality police after being detained for allegedly violating the hijab laws.

Pezeshkian also supports talks with the West to lift the debilitating sanctions on Iran and help the country’s struggling economy.

Despite Pezeshkian’s victory, analysts said he will face strong headwinds from Iran’s hardline conservatives dominating the government and cooperating with Khamenei.

The supreme leader previously condemned those candidates advocating better relations with the West, CNN added. He also called on Pezeshkian to act “in continuation of the path” of his predecessor, the late President Ebrahim Raisi.

Raisi, a hardliner, and other senior officials died in a helicopter crash in May, prompting the government to call for new presidential polls.

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