The Iran surprise

With a reputation for pragmatism,Rouhani might well be Iran’s man for the moment

Published: June 17, 2013 5:26 am

With a reputation for pragmatism,Rouhani might well be Iran’s man for the moment

The landslide victory of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s presidential elections has helped reinforce the political legitimacy of the Islamic Republic. It has also opened the door,a wee bit,for a reorientation of the nation’s domestic politics,and the exploration of a nuclear accommodation with the US. Few were willing to bet on a credible outcome from these elections,let alone predict a fluent victory for Rouhani,who secured more than 50 per cent of the vote. The accusations of rigging in the last presidential elections in 2009,the rejection of the candidacies of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Afsandyar Rahim Mashaei,a close confidant of outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad,and tightened controls over the media,had convinced observers that the system was being tilted in favour of one of the conservative candidates close to the Supreme Leader,Ayatollah Khamenei.

The reformists played their cards well by withdrawing their only candidate in the fray in favour of Rouhani and rallying pro-change forces around him. Khamenei,in turn,urged all citizens to vote despite the fact that a large turnout would favour Rouhani. He also did not force unity among the conservative candidates,who divided the votes on the right. Khamenei made no secret of his conviction that restoring the legitimacy of the system was a higher political objective than keeping reformers and moderates out of office. Having the last word over all big policy issues,Khamenei has no reason to be insecure. But he badly needs some room for manoeuvre at a difficult juncture in the evolution of the Islamic Republic.

Rouhani successfully reached out to women voters and the youth,by promising to end gender inequality and the excesses of the moral police. He promises to restore Iran’s dignity in the international sphere,end the prolonged nuclear confrontation with the US,and put the economy back on the rails. After eight years of Ahmadinejad’s confrontational politics,Rouhani offers to inject flexibility into Tehran’s internal and external policies. If prejudice prevented Washington from seeing the political possibilities of the election,it will be a big blunder not to recast American strategy. The US must offer Rouhani an unconditional dialogue that will look beyond the nuclear dispute and address the current regional security challenges in the Greater Middle East,including Afghanistan. The ball is in America’s court.

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