Iranian Christians Question Reformist Credentials of New President

Heart surgeon Masoud Pezeshkian takes the helm of the Islamic Republic, having campaigned for ethnic and religious minorities while pledging to reach out to the West.

The surprise election in Iran of the sole reformist candidate for president was met with an unsurprising reaction from the United States.

Heart surgeon Masoud Pezeshkian tallied 53 percent of the vote for a clear but narrow victory over hard-line former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in an electoral process the State Department labeled “not free or fair.”

It followed the May 19 death of the previous president in a helicopter crash.

With “no expectation [of] fundamental change,” the perspective from Washington echoed that of Javaid Rehman, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Iran. The Pakistani-British lawyer stated that a new president is unlikely to improve the Islamic Republic’s record.

Iranian Christian sources in the diaspora agree.

“The result highlights a superficial change in leadership,” said Robert Karami, an Iranian Church of England pastor outside London and a board member of Release International, a UK-based advocate for the persecuted church. “It does not matter who holds the presidential office as long as the Supreme Leader remains in power.”

Pezeshkian, age 69, was one of six candidates permitted to run by Iran’s 12-member Guardian Council, appointed by head of state Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Dozens of candidates were disqualified, including former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Analysts speculated the inclusion of Pezeshkian was intended to increase voter turnout—but if so, the strategy initially failed and may have backfired.

Only 40 percent of the electorate participated in the first round held on June 28, the lowest tally since the 1979 Iranian revolution. It resulted in the first runoff since 2005, leading …

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