Pezeshkian aims to improve relations with the West and relax hijab laws. (file)

Reformist Masoud Pezhashkian won Iran’s presidential election on Saturday, defeating hardliner Saeed Jalili by a margin of about 2.8 million votes.

The 69-year-old president-elect aims to improve relations with the West and relax the mandatory hijab law. While Pizshakyan respects the authority of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and does not want major changes in Iran’s regime, he faces significant challenges — opposition from hardliners, the Israel-Hamas conflict, and Iran’s nuclear program. Western concerns about the program.

Here are some facts about Massoud Pizshakyan:

Masoud Pizshakyan was born on September 29, 1954, in Mahabad, West Azerbaijan, to an Azeri father and a Kurdish mother. He speaks the Azeri language and focuses on the issues of Iran’s minority ethnic groups. Mr. Pyzhashkian lost his wife, Fatima Majidi, and one of their daughters in a car accident in 1994. They chose not to remarry and raised their two other sons and daughter alone.

He is a heart surgeon and has served as the head of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences. He became a fighter and medic during the Iran-Iraq War (1980-1988), sending medical teams to the front lines.

Massoud Pizshakyan served as the Minister of Health, Treatment and Medical Education in the administration of President Mohammad Khatami. He has been a member of the Iranian Parliament, representing Tabriz, Azarshahr and Osco for several terms (8th to 12th). He was the first deputy speaker from 2016 to 2020.

The 69-year-old had registered for the presidential elections in 2011 and 2021. He withdrew in 2011 and became ineligible in 2021. In the 2024 presidential election, Pyzhashkian campaigned with the slogan “For Iran” aimed at contradicting his policies. His opponent Saeed Jalili.

Masoud Pizshakyan has been surrounded by many controversies. In 2003, he attended the autopsy of Iranian-Canadian photojournalist Zahra Kazemi, who was detained, tortured and died in custody. He cited intracranial bleeding as the cause of death but claimed there were no signs of injuries or cuts, contradicting international outcry and calls for an investigation.

In 2017, Pezeshkian admitted to being one of the first women to ban non-hijab-wearing women from entering universities and hospitals in 1978, even after the mandatory hijab policy was officially introduced. In 2022, after Mehsa Amini’s death, he said that arresting a girl for not wearing a hijab and then returning her body to her family was “unacceptable in the Islamic Republic”.

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