Presidential elections are always a time for hope. Nowhere is that more clear than in Iran, where a fervent desire for change is tempered by fears that the people’s voice might not be heard, or, worse yet, altered through fraud and manipulation. Still, Iranians thronged the election rallies, vibrant and noisy affairs that took place in gymnasiums and sports stadiums across the country. As Election Day loomed, candidates, get-out-the-vote volunteers and Iran’s own Supreme Leader Ali Hosseini Khamenei exhorted citizens to vote, and they did, in record numbers. Polling station hours were extended late into the evening of June 14th, and, unlike the elections of 2009, when the results were announced almost immediately, the count took an agonizing 24 hours.
But on Saturday evening, hope blossomed into joy. Hassan Rouhani, the sole moderate on the ballot, exceeded all expectations to sweep a field made up of five other candidates, winning 51% of the vote and narrowly avoiding a runoff. Iranians celebrated in the streets with dancing and music, an infectious jubilation that led even the White House to grudgingly admit that despite expectations for fraud, the Iranian people finally had their say.
Aryn Baker is the Middle East bureau chief for TIME. Follow her on Twitter @arynebaker.
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