It has been a famous victory even in the reckoning of Iran’s adversaries, notably Saudi Arabia.
The landslide triumph of President Hassan Rouhani carries a pregnant message both in terms of domestic policy and foreign affairs, pre-eminently matters nuclear.
It is a sweeping endorsement for efforts to end Iran’s international isolation and bring about greater freedoms at home.
The victory must seem still more significant as the scale was not wholly expected ~ 23.5 million votes for Rouhani against his rival, Ebrahim Raisi’s 15.8 million.
The powerful mandate protects the nuclear deal, which was the incumbent’s headline achievement, and the courting of foreign investment.
The outcome will doubtless lend more power to Rouhani’s elbow, most importantly in his pursuit of a reformist agenda and the choice of a new supreme leader who calls the shots in the overall construct. The social division in a country with nuclear potential was underscored by Rouhani himself in course of his victory speech on TV.
Instead of the ha-ha that might have been expected, he was remarkably realistic to describe the presidential election as the “most competitive ever”, even referring to his opponents as “dangerously backward-looking”.
“Yesterday, you said ‘no’ to those who wanted us to return to the past,” he told his nation. Implicitly, he has ruled out any turning back of the clock… as indeed it was in 1979 with the eclipse of the Shah. He sounded acutely aware of the challenge posed by hardliners who still hold ultimate control in Iran’s dichotomy of theocracy and democracy ~ one antithetical to the other.
Nonetheless, the scale of his victory provides
Rouhani with the opportunity to challenge the hardliners. While much will be expected of the President, it will not be easy to fulfil all expectations not least because of the constraints of Iran’s complex government system and the crippling sanctions that Donald Trump’s America is in no mood to lift.
The US President’s visit to Saudi Arabia, Iran’s adversary, in the midst of the election, carries a twin message to Tehran and Riyadh.
The West’s repeal of nuclear sanctions, that followed his landmark deal, was not followed by the expected foreign investment because the unilateral US sanctions remained in place. Doing business in Iran continues to be complicated, when not illegal.
Rouhani will need the cooperation of Western powers to urge the US to roll back sanctions, or to step up investment in the areas they allow.
For now, the victory has tilted the political balance towards reformists. Iran has reaffirmed the continuance of Hassan Rouhani for a second term; yet both the reformists and moderates are gearing up for the high stakes ~ the choice of the new supreme leader after Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. now 77, takes the bow.
The uncertainty over the incumbent’s second term is over; less easily settled is the dilemma over change and moderate theocracy.