by Mehrnaz Samimi
Iran’s national soccer team won a thrilling match against South Korea on June 18, landing them a spot in the 2014 World Cup. With the excitement and joy over Hassan Rouhani’s presidential victory still in the air, people gathered in the streets for the second time in less than a week to celebrate.
Political demonstrations are often a daring feat in Iran. Sports celebrations, however, are welcomed.
During these gatherings, folks warm up to each other. Some hand out candy or pastries in the streets to strangers. People become familiar with one another within hours.
Mohammad Khatami’s first-term election was the first time in nearly two decades that people were ecstatic that a cleric had come to power. His presidential rival at the time — Ali-Akbar Nategh Nouri — was a cleric as well.
This time, people demonstrated strong support for a single cleric running against five non-clerics, thanks to Rouhani’s moderate views and his competitors’ conservatism.
Iranians are known as “the people of the 90th minute”, an expression rooted in a soccer analogy.
The official length of a soccer match is 90 minutes, and Iranians are likened to some professional soccer players who seem to wait until the very last minute to play extraordinary offense.
Iranians might also agree that they generally wait until the last minute to make a decision or take action, even on important issues.
Planning trips months ahead isn’t the norm among many Iranians living inside Iran. Similarly, Iranians might wait until the final days before voting officially opens to decide on their presidential candidate.
This culture of minute-90 was similarly in place at the time of the candidates’ debates.
It took a long time for the debates’ broadcast schedule to be announced, and the final debate was aired only a few days before the big day.
A high turnout was not anticipated for this year’s presidential election.
Most people also doubted that Rouhani stood a chance, especially since many Iranians seemed reluctant to vote.
The people’s lack of enthusiasm gave way to some excitement following an endorsement of Rouhani from centrist leader Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and reformist leader Khatami.
After Rouhani received their public backing, many people — almost at minute-90 of the election — became decisive.
Many members of Iran’s middle class, upper middle class, educated professionals and former reformists (including Green Movement supporters) decided to participate by voting for Rouhani.
Some still seemed like they would refrain from voting, joking that they would vote for themselves and even discouraged friends and relatives from voting.
But being the last-minute people, most of Iran’s eligible voters ultimately did exercise their constitutional right.
Some people even came out during the evening of voting day, which resulted in some voting stations receiving a surge of voters not long before they closed.
The Ministry of the Interior almost always extends the deadline for voting due to the all-too-familiar phenomenon of minute-90 decision-making. That happened this year too.
Rouhani wasn’t considered a favorite or even a front-runner until the last week of the election.
The support he received from the centrist-reformist alliance catapulted him into the spotlight, but he owes his victory to Iran’s people.
Without the last-minute surge of voter support, Rouhani wouldn’t have won.
Iran’s people of the 90th minute have come through and surprised us yet again.
— Mehrnaz Samimi is an Iranian-American journalist based in Washington, DC. She can be reached at [email protected]
— Photo Credit: Mona Hoobehfekr