TEHRAN, Iran -- President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was re- elected for a second term in office with a comfortable 63 percent of the popular vote, and thanked the Iranian people Sunday for taking part in the poll.
The final results of Iran's sixth presidential election since the 1979 revolution, announced Sunday, gave former Labor Minister Ahmed Tavakoli about 24 percent of the popular vote, far above the figure earlier expected.
The low turnout -- 57.6 percent of the 29 million eligible voters -- together with the 37 percent protest vote against Rafsanjani was interpreted by diplomats and other analysts as a sign that the bulk of the Iranians were displeased with the government.
Rafsanjani, speaking on the state radio, thanked those who turned out for the election and chose him ahead of the three other candidates permitted by a panel of Islamic clerics and jurists that banned more than 100 other applicants.
He said he considered the results to be an expression of confidence in him and his policies.
'In any case, this election was as important as the revolution, and I consider it to be very effective, expressive and full of meaning,' the president said.
Interior Minister Abdullah Noori said earlier that Rafsanjani received 10,553,344 votes out of 16,700,250 cast, giving him 63.2 percent of the popular vote.
Rafsannani, 58, who was elected to his first term in 1989 with 94.1 percent of the popular vote, appeared to have lost ground because of Iran's deteriorating economy and resentment among the country's workers and the business community.
Still not fully recovered from the 1980-88 war with Iraq and a decade of state controls under hard-line former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Musavi, the Iranian economy also is reeling from the impact of the world recession in general.
Benefitting most from the large protest vote, Tavakoli, 42, captured 3,976,165 ballots, or 23.8 percent of the popular vote. But he was not seen as a threat to the clergy or the system of government set up under the late Ayatolloh Ruhollah Khomeini.
Tavakoli was a minister in Musavi's Cabinet and was said to have impeccable Islamic credentials.
He resigned from the Cabinet in the early 1980s, in protest of Musavi's economic policies, and ran against Rafsanjani on a platform of economic reform and more benefits for workers.
He was, however, one of three challengers hand-picked by a council of clerics and jurists whose business it is to ensure that only those who support Khomeini's doctrine of the rule of the clergy are are elected to public office or the Iranian parliament.
The council last month screened out 124 candidates who registered to enter the race, and did not bother even to give any reasons or announce the names of those disqualified.
Another ideologically sound candidate allowed to run was university chancellor Abdullah Jasbi, who received 1,515,632 of the ballots cast, or 9.1 percent of the popular vote.
Trailing far behind was the third approved candidate, Rajab Ali Taheri, a former deputy in the Majlis, or parliament, who garnered just 401,579 votes, or 2.4 percent.
Unaccounted for in the final tally were 253,530 ballots, or 1.5 percent of the popular vote, believed to have been either blank votes cast to show resentment against the ruling clerics or invalid ballots.
Publicly, officials appeared pleased with the turnout. Both Rafsanjani and Noori expressed satisfaction. The president said the 'almost two-thirds' of the popular vote he received indicated that Iranians had 'expressed support' for his program.
But an independent survey carried out during the balloting indicated the bulk of those who stayed away did so because they were displeased with the clergy or did not believe their vote would make any difference to the government.
Rafsanjani, apparently taking a lesson from the results, said: 'The views of the people at this moment are very valuable to us,' because Iranians had come through 'very difficult periods, times of change and reconstruction.'
He said Iran was passing through a sensitive period, with the reconstruction effort about to reach a high point, and said his government still had a difficult job ahead.
Earlier, several leading figures, including leader of the revolution Ali Khamenei and Hojatoleslam Ahmed Khomeini, the son of the late ayatollah, appeared concerned there would be a low turnout and urged people to go to the ballot boxes in large numbers.
Khomeini told Iranians in a television broadcast Friday: 'The world, and particularly the West, is watching to see if you will cast your ballot. We ask you to consider it your duty to vote.'
Many of those questioned in the streets by a foreign reporter said they voted because they considered it a religious or national duty.
Of those who did not vote, many said they believed the results would be rigged, or that they had lost confidence in the system. Still others were just angry with the government. 'I voted once, for the Islamic republic. That is it,' one man said.