He is known as the Diplomat Sheikh — and he has struck again.
He beat three conservatives to win a landslide presidential election in 2013, led Iran through two years of tortuous negotiations to a nuclear and sanctions deal, and now Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani — as he is formally known — has again triumphed.
If reformist voters felt marginalised having had thousands of their candidates disqualified, it has not shown.
Instead of boycotting the recent elections and handing victory to their opponents, reformist supporters went out in their droves and voted for moderate alternatives hoping to block the march of the hardliners.
It worked, and the astute strategy has paid dividends. The “coalition of hope” was a list of acceptable candidates who were moderates, independents and even some conservatives. When the results were in, they had won all 30 of the capital’s seats, ousting renowned hardliners in the process.
It was a ringing endorsement of Mr Rouhani’s vision to open Iran to the world and further his plans for economic reform.
Iranian newspapers were jubilant. Headlines included: “A Story of Hope” and “The Breeze of Victory”. They talked of a decisive win and an unforgettable day.
Reformists itching for political and social freedoms
Though parliament has limited power, hardline MPs have over the last two years created major headaches for the Government by threatening to impeach ministers and levelling accusations.
But a good number of hardliners have been vanquished and a new chapter of more consensual politics is on its way.
“This is a very positive move for Iran. The new parliament will be supportive of the administration and its economic and foreign policies,” former Iranian nuclear negotiator Hossein Mousavian said.
“The new parliament will also be loyal to the Supreme Leader, and that is the best outcome.”
With most results now confirmed, the moderate reformist groups won about 80 seats, Principlists (conservatives) a further 80 and independent candidates have gained 60 seats.
With no fixed party affiliations, numbers are approximate and about 60 seats face run-off elections next month. Crucially, about 20 women are on course to be elected — the largest number ever.
The reformists’ strategy was a success, but it remains to be seen whether their supporters — who want greater social and political freedoms — will be satisfied with the slow progress Mr Rouhani has made with his 2013 election pledges.
Those included easing the security atmosphere in Iran and working towards the freedom of the two reformist leaders who remain under house arrest.
But Mr Mousavian said those agitating for reform have learned the lessons of the past.
“Reformists understand the demands they made previously were too extreme and unrealistic and I don’t believe they will repeat these mistakes; they will be more prudent,” he said.
While social reforms remain sensitive, Mr Rouhani’s immediate priorities are economic repair, jobs and prosperity.
This means improving tax collection, further cuts to subsidies, bringing down inflation to single digits, cutting the bloated public sector and boosting the private sector.
The Iranian President this week stressed the need to privatise major industries, such as the auto sector, one of the biggest employers, and criticized its state control.
“The fact that we set up one or two companies and say ‘this is it, take it or leave it’, the Government will not support such logic,” Mr Rouhani said.
The car industry is already a major focus of Iran’s economic renaissance. In January a deal was announced between French auto giant Peugeot and Iran’s Khodro corporation.
Mr Rouhani knows that foreign investment and technology will bring major benefits, creating employment as well as improving quality standards and safety.
Frontier Partners’ Parham Gohari said the auto industry was a major sector in Iran and reflected the overall economy.
“The industry has been volatile since 2011, mirroring the country as a whole,” he said.
Mr Gohari’s company facilitates international businesses entering Iran and is currently working on three deals involving auto manufacturers.
“For the authorities, the auto industry is the quickest way to get the economy moving again,” he said.
“In the coming months we should see a push for amendments to facilitate inward investment into banking, mining and oil and gas projects.”
Rafsanjani eyes off Supreme Leader title
A state body tasked with choosing the Supreme Leader’s successor called the Assembly of Experts is undergoing transformation too.
Last Friday voters also cast ballots for its 88 members, who have traditionally been made up of clerics resolutely loyal to the supreme leader.
Of the 16 assembly seats allocated for Tehran, moderates won 15, with two notable hardliners failing to hold on. The remaining seats are yet to be announced.
While conservative loyalists are still expected to dominate the body, former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani — Mr Rouhani’s mentor — emerged at the top of the list and could clinch chairmanship of the body.
A key rival to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, Mr Rafsanjani has re-emerged from the shadows and is now centre stage in Mr Rouhani’s reformist push.
“No one is able to resist against the will of the majority of the people,” Mr Rafsanjani said on Twitter, arguably in a message to the Supreme Leader to take note of the Iranian public.
“And whoever the people don’t want has to step aside