When Hassan Rohani won Iran’s presidential election in June, he garnered more votes than his predecessor did when he swept to power eight years before. The 64-year-old lawyer, cleric, and former diplomat will take on an economy that under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was defined by falling oil exports because of international sanctions, accelerating inflation, a currency collapse, and stubbornly high unemployment.
Trying to predict political developments in Iran can be a humbling experience, even for the most seasoned students of Iranian politics. The unexpected electoral victory of centrist Hassan Rouhani serves as a reminder of this stark reality. The Washington Post editorial board boldly proclaimed before the elections that Rouhani “will not be allowed to win”.
When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stepped on to the tarmac in Accra, the capital of Ghana, some wondered if the April trip would be his last visit abroad as the leader of Iran. Ghana wrapped up a broader tour of Africa that included stops in Niger and Benin. The fact that Ahmadinejad would even visit Ghana, a nation which the Shahist Iran only began diplomatic relations with in 1974, explains how Iranian foreign policy has evolved under his rule.
In hindsight, it is easy to understand why the Iranian public backed Hassan Rouhani. Less apparent is why Ayatollah Ali Khamenei let the result stand. One explanation is that he wanted to avoid a repeat of 2009. Another — and one that better explains his permissive attitude toward Rouhani’s edgy campaign — is that the Ayatollah is ready to empower a conciliator who can repair Iran‘s frayed relations with the world and walk it back from economic disaster.
Whether Rouhani’s appointment actually results in a radical change in Iran’s relations with the outside world, particularly over its nuclear programme, remains to be seen. While he might portray himself as a moderate, he has spent most of his political career at the heart of Iran’s conservative clerical establishment, says Con Coughlin.
Iran votes on Friday in a presidential election unlikely to result in seismic shifts in its troubled relations with the West and Gulf Arab neighbors, but which could bring a softening of the confrontational style personified by outgoing president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The paradoxical nature of politics in the Islamic Republic of Iran has been on full display in this short campaign season for the presidency. As plenty of commentators — both in the Iranian and Western media — have pointed out, much of the action took place before the race was officially under way. This week, the Guardian Council approved only eight candidates out of close to 700 who had registered to compete in the election scheduled for June 14.
Is it time to write the political obituary of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose second and final term in office as the President of Iran is coming to an end in a few weeks? Not necessarily. But it is time to take stock of the man and his eight-year presidency. All the more so because he is not going to walk away into the sunset.
After the huge protests that followed the 2009 election, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei may have hoped June polls would quietly install a loyal conservative president, but the surprise candidacies of two major independents may scupper that. Both Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, the nationalist protégé of rabble-rousing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a former president and Iran‘s best known political grandee, are seen as a threat to the leader’s authority.