Hassan Rouhani: Iran’s New President Will Build Alliances With India and Afghanistan

Here is something I wrote for policymic

 

An unprecedented number of Iranians at home and abroad participated in the 11th presidential elections in the Islamic Republic. In a striking repudiation of the ultraconservatives who wield power in Iran, voters overwhelmingly elected a mild-mannered cleric who advocates greater personal freedoms and a more conciliatory approach to the world. Hassan Rouhani, 64, won a commanding 51% of the vote in the six-way race. This punishing of hardliners at the polls indicated that Iranians were looking to their next president to change the tone, if not the direction, of the nation. Mr. Rouhani used a key as his campaign symbol, and focused on issues important to the youth, including unemployment. His message was one of outreach, responsiveness, and inclusion. While Rouhani is considered a relative moderate and had the backing of Iranian reformists, the hardline supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei remains the ultimate authority on all state matters, including the nuclear program.

“Let’s end extremism,” Mr. Rouhani said during a campaign speech. “We have no other option than moderation.” During his campaign, Rouhani criticized the much-hated morality police who arrest women for not having proper head scarves and coats. He called for the lifting of restrictions on the Internet and hinted at freeing the political prisoners. Rouhani appears to be something of a post-Islamic revolution phenomenon. He is not too distant from the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. His own track record as head of Iran’s National Security Council and one-time nuclear negotiator means that he knows how to engage with the outside world. His victory also symbolizes the ascendancy of the reform movement that was so violently put down after the last presidential vote four years ago.

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Rouhani’s win

Here is an Editorial for the Express Tribune

 

The victory of Iran’s moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani in the presidential election is good news on many counts. He was able to secure the support of the opposition as well as the reform groups within Iran. Hopefully, a departure will be made from the hard-line worldview of his predecessor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who had taken the country towards international isolation. A remarkable feature of the Iranian elections was the high voter participation of 72 per cent. Compared with the 55 per cent in the recent Pakistani elections, this surely sets a benchmark for the region. Rouhani’s election campaign highlighted, not unlike Nawaz Sharif, the economic woes of Iran and on working out a more conciliatory approach towards the West. Iran badly needs relief from the sanctions imposed by the West, especially the United States, for its economy to pick up.

The fundamentals of Iranian polity remain unchanged. The all-powerful “Supreme Leader” and the council of clerics firmly control policy in the country. But this minor shift will work in Iran’s favour as president-elect Rouhani was the lead nuclear negotiator under the reign of Mohammad Khatami and is, therefore, well endowed with diplomatic experience. Iran’s growing young population and the quest of its populace to integrate with the world should be better served with this win.

The real question is whether the new president would be given some space by the powerful Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and endow him with the authority to improve relations with the West. The West must note the message given by the Iranian population. A majority of the country’s population has backed the pragmatic line that Rouhani takes. Thus, it is time for effective engagement with Tehran and giving up on paranoia over Iran’s nuclear programme. Pressured by the pro-Israel groups in the US, the Obama Administration had adopted a coercive approach. Given Iran’s proximity to Pakistan and Afghanistan and the 2014 Nato pullout, it is essential that the US support regional cooperation efforts.