Iran’s Interior minister has announced that the moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani has been elected the president of Iran, winning the support of 51 percent of the electorate and precluding a run-off vote. In stark contrast to the turmoil of violence and protests surrounding the 2009 election—which many within the opposition felt was rigged—the election process on Friday seemed to go smoothly for the most part, with 72 percent turnout of the 50 million eligible voters.
Rouhani, 64, garnered more than 18 million votes, while his closest rival, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, got about 6 million.
While it’s true that the office of the presidency in Iran does not have final say in many important issues of governance and the real power is vested in the country’s head of state, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Rouhani’s election still may signal the desire for change in a nation often at odds with the West.
It’s a complicated country that balances theocracy with democracy, and it’s obviously impossible to predict what the future holds, but here’s what Iran could look like under President Hassan Rouhani.
1. He May Challenge the Conservative Clerics
All of the hard-line conservative candidates finished in last place in the election, while Rouhani, a moderate cleric seen as a reformist, won handily, perhaps suggesting the Iranian people are hoping to see their nation change course from the contentious era of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Rouhani has called for the decentralization of the government’s hold on cultural issues and has proposed enacting a domestic “civil rights charter”. For example, he has criticized the so-called morality police, which have a history of arresting people for not conforming to Islamic social customs, such as women not wearing head scarves—though, as Reza Aslan points out in Foreign Policy, Ahmadinejad had also been a critic of the morality police, and little came of it.
Rouhani said during a campaign interview:
What I truly wish is for moderation to return to the country. This is my only wish. Extremism pains me greatly. We have suffered many blows as a result of extremism.
However, it should be noted that Rouhani was actually the third choice of potential presidential candidates favored by Iran’s reformists who wanted former moderate Presidents Mohammad Khatami or Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, both of whom were not on the ballot.
2. Improved Relations with the West?
Rouhani has vowed to work towards deescalating the tensions between Iran and the West, particularly with the US. He said of his country’s relationship with Washington:
It seems that extremists on both sides are determined to maintain the state of hostility and hatred between the two states, but logic says that there should be a change of direction in order to turn a new page in this unstable relationship and minimize the state of hostility and mistrust between the two countries.
But he has also denounced the economic sanctions against Iran imposed by the Obama administration, saying:
If sincerity can be measured, and intention can be read, sanctions and daily threats are the criteria for this measurement and reading. In my view, Obama’s policy toward Iran cannot lead to the improvement of the troubled bilateral relations as long as the US’s mischievous treatment of Iran continues to dictate the course.
3. Hope for Iran’s Economic Woes?
Economic policy is one area where Iran’s president does have significant sway. Iran has seen major economic woes in the past few years, as the value of the country’s currency, the rial, has fallen sharply. The fall of the rial, blamed on a combination of government mismanagement and sanctions imposed by the US, has led to skyrocketing inflation and nosediving oil exports.
Rouhani has said of the country’s economic problems:
The existing problems in the field of economy and other sectors are due to incorrect management by the incumbent administration. With proper planning, production units can be activated and jobs can be created, but this needs stability because sometimes economic regulations of the country have changed 50 times in a single month.
Part of the problem lies with the subsidy reform enacted during the Ahmadinejad administration, which led to high production costs and low output in the manufacturing sector.
Rouhani has vowed to roll back many of these subsidy reforms:
Subsidies should have been allocated to production sector, but this has not happened. If reallocation of subsidies is to continue, the past problems should be resolved and in addition to cash handouts, people should also receive subsidies in the form of various commodities, so that, their current problems would be solved and their existing concerns would be addressed.
4. Relations with Israel
While Rouhani has remained mostly mum about what his vision for the future of Iranian-Israeli relations may entail, some of the reaction to his election in Israel has been positive so far.
Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian politics lecturer at Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, Israel, told the Guardian that the election results have come as a “total and absolute surprise”.
If Rouhani wins … it’d be a clear sign that after the 2009 uprising, the supreme leader has learned that his regime needs to regain its legitimacy, and that will only come from counting the vote of the people.
Shaul Mofaz, a member of Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, and head of the liberal-centrist party Kadima, also expressed optimism about Rouhani’s victory:
The (results) of the Iranian election are like an earth quake. It is a dramatic result that speaks worlds about the way the wind is blowing on the streets of Iran, in terms of its internal politics.
5. The Future of Iran’s Nuclear Program?
Iran has always contended that its nuclear program is for energy purposes only, and that it is not trying to weaponize uranium enrichment.
The International Atomic Energy Agency has repeatedly said that Iran has not been transparent enough in divulging the details it’s nuclear program. In its most recent report, the IAEA said:
Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation, including by not implementing its Additional Protocol, the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
Rouhani was Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator from October 2003 to August 2005, during a period that led to the Sa’dabad Agreement in which Iran agreed “voluntarily to suspend all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities as defined by the IAEA.” The agreement failed when Iran felt certain concessions they were promised from Britain, France and Germany went unmet.
Rouhani also maintains that the nation’s nuclear program is purely for energy. He suggests that the claims that Iran is actively seeking development of a nuclear weapon is part of an intentional misinformation campaign, saying:
A politically motivated campaign of misinformation has persistently attempted to cast doubts on the exclusively peaceful nature of this program. This campaign is being fueled and directed first and foremost by Israel, in order to divert international attention not only from its own clandestine and dangerous nuclear weapons program, but also from its destabilizing and inhuman policies and practices in Palestine and the Middle East. Regrettably, the Security Council has discredited itself by allowing the United States to impose this counter-productive Israeli agenda.
Rouhani also added:
Nuclear weapons have no role in Iran’s national security doctrine, and therefore Iran has nothing to conceal. But in order to move towards the resolution of Iran’s nuclear dossier, we need to build both domestic consensus and global convergence and understanding through dialogue.
What this might spell for the future of Iran’s nuclear program is unclear.