Libertatem Magazine

Iran Elections: Background and the Path Ahead

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Election around the world is a practice undertaken to ensure that the representatives of the people are chosen by the people and for the people. Countries have regulated this practice as per their norms and constitutional framework. Some countries practice open-ended elections where candidates from any field of life have the right to contest in accordance with the electoral norms, but there are countries where elections are closed-door. Closed-door elections are at times questioned to be not free and fair and condemned and as a mere practice with low voter turnout and rigged elections. With special reference to the Islamic Republic of Iran, this piece is an attempt to examine the transformation in the Iranian politics.


The political change in Iran emerged after the Iranian Revolution of 1980s. The revolution marked the emergence of the strict Islamic dominance under clerical family of Kheimini. Iran after the revolution came under dictatorial regime, where political atmosphere completely became rigid. The loyalty towards the cleric determined the political position with the dissenters and the political opposition being completely wiped out. Unfortunately, the new trend after the 1980s destroyed the democratic principles and isolated the country from the global mainstream politics. Iran has been a vociferous opponent of the western style democracy especially the policy of USA of interference in internal matters. The early years of 2000s witnessed the boiling differences between these two countries. The then US President George W. Bush termed Iran as the “Axis of all Evils”. Such rhetoric further deteriorated the relations.

The new era saw the dawn of global interdependence, but such a trend was miles away when it came to Iran. The country lived in isolation gaining severe condemnation and criticism of several human rights violations and becoming a global threat with their nuclear program.

Emergence of Hassan Rouhani

The recent elections held in Iran marked the victory of Hassan Rouhani for the second tenure as the President of the country. But, before discussing about the political battle in Iran and its importance around the world, we must first try to know the person who is the pioneer of championing a liberal culture in a country under an orthodox and strict regime. Hassan Rouhani played a crucial role during the days of the revolution. He is often accused of causing the assassination of several opponents. He became a loyalist to the clerical family, and performed various roles in the armed forces and diplomacy. In the year 2002, Rouhani became the Chief Nuclear Negotiator of Iran and managed to reach a deal with the European countries to suspend uranium enrichment. But, the hardliner President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad disallowed any foreign influence in formulating the Iranian policies which resulted in the resignation of Hassan Rouhani as the Chief Negotiator. The hardliner agenda only doomed the growth of Iran. The suspension of nuclear negotiations invited international sanctions leading to the crippling of the Iranian economy.

But during the elections of 2013, Hassan Rouhani marked a new trend in the politics of Iran as the open criticism of the hardliners was something new to the people of Iran. Rouhani promised during his then presidential campaign to undertake developmental goals and job-creation in cooperation with the western economies. Such a statement was against the Iranian hardliner political atmosphere. But Mr. Rouhani was well aware of the recent trends and he was aware of the need of the people. These promises worked well in his favour as he managed a victory as the President of the country. During his presidential tenure, Iran-USA marked the beginning of a new relation. The telephonic conversation between the then President Barack Obama and Hassan Rouhani was globally seen as the entrance of Iran into the international domain. The famous Nuclear Deal  led to the lifting of International sanctions and marked a new beginning. The root cause of the issue was the Iran’s nuclear program, and the international settlement not only opened the veil of nuclear threat but also made Iran a new destination of global investments. The far-sighted decisions of Mr. Rouhani were welcomed by the masses but equally criticized by the hardliners and seen with skepticism. The landmark deal was also seen with suspicion by Saudi Arabia and Israel due to the lack of trust and cooperation between these countries. But, moreover this deal along with several reformist agendas gave Mr. Rouhani a different image contrary to the conventional earlier Presidents.

2017 Elections & Challenges Ahead

The 2017 Presidential elections in Iran were internationally viewed as a symbol of hope and fear. The hope was the fulfillment of the promises in the landmark deal and leading Iran towards a path of a more open country to the world. But, the fear alongside was the hardliner approach which may jeopardize the efforts undertaken by all the stakeholders in reaching the landmark deal. So, the elections could be said to be contested between two schools of thought. On the one side was the Liberal School under the leadership of Hassan Rouhani and on the other side was Hardliner group under the leadership of Ebrahim Raisi backed by the clerics. As mentioned above, the Iranian politics is hugely determined with the support of the clerical family. The Supreme Leader’s support is of vital importance in maintaining a stronghold in the Iranian politics. Ebrahim Raisi is considered to be a closer associate of Supreme Leader Ayatollaha Kheimini. During the presidential campaign, Mr. Raisi made an attempt in invoking the hardliner approach of growing dependence on the international community and instigating the religious feeling where the liberal stance was seen as a threat to the religion. Mr. Raisi also highlighted the failure of Mr. Rouhani’s policies of raising employment.

There were challenges ahead of Mr. Rouhani both before and after elections. Let us first examine the challenges to his road to President ship. He had faced several condemnations for his policies. The voters were also suspicious due to the prevalent rates of unemployment. But, Mr. Rouhani strategized his campaign in the manner which would woo the electorate and also gain support of the hardliners. He maintained his stance of following a liberal approach and making Iran more open to the world, but he also assured the electorates and clerics his decisions would serve towards bringing prosperity in Iran and would not pose any religious threat. His uncompromised position in securing the religious ideals helped him in gaining support from the clerics. He was often posed with the question of employment-creation to which he made a pragmatic stand. He vowed to his commitment, but also gave the electorate a choice that his remaining in power would only allow him to take further steps. His ouster would only lead to the threat of scrapping the nuclear deal and newer sanctions which would only make the conditions worse. Mr. Rouhani ended up successfully managing to convince the electorate and come up with a sweeping victory. But, now after conquering the internal challenges, he is posed with some international challenges.

Iran Elections: Peace Maker or Peace Breaker

The war-torn Middle East is massively divided on the lines of religious and ideological differences. The war in the region has largely destabilized the Middle East and bears a global impact with rising levels of radicalization and xenophobia.

So, how Iran plays a crucial role in stabilizing the region or further nurturing the seeds of radicalization? To understand this better, we must first examine the deteriorating state of the Middle East. The war ravaged region has led to bloodbath leading to brutal war crimes. The war in Yemen can be taken as an example of the ideological differences. By this, we may also examine the Saudi-Iran differences as both the countries are the stakeholders. The Houthi Rebels belonging to the Shia ideology are said to have the backing of Iran whereas the Saudis i.e. Sunnis have been against the rebels terming them as a terror outfit and have constantly bombarded their locations. Mr. Rouhani here would have to maintain a balance in his actions where his approach towards Saudi does not become the reason of his downfall internally, but on the other hand he would also have to be careful in taking strict actions against the Saudis due to their close proximity with the western countries. The landmark deal with the P5+1 must be aimed at furthering the goals. Mr. Rouhani would have to maintain his “diplomatic sheikh” image because it is evident that he would face several internal pressures including from the Supreme Leader, and in order to achieve the goals he would have to be careful by not succumbing to the internal pressures. The road ahead for him does not seem to be easy. As the suspension of the nuclear program may heighten the tensions with the rival countries, it would be seen as making Iran vulnerable to external aggression. Here, the President would have to play the role of a peace maker but more pragmatically. Any uncalculated move can be the cause of a big catastrophe.

Coming to its Indian approach, then Mr. Rouhani can have a sigh of relief. Iran-Indian has a more open-ended diplomatic relations. The victory of Mr. Rouhani goes in complete favor of the Indian interest. India cannot undermine the strategic importance of Iran being a neighboring country of Pakistan. Iran and Pakistan do not share cordial relations due to the ideological differences and Pakistan’s close proximity with Iran. These differences are advantageous in the Indian interest, as India can exploit these differences by engaging with Iran by diplomatic and military cooperation. The construction of Chhabar Port is one among other moves where India has presented its rapport with Iran. Mr. Rouhani being also aware of the large Shia population in the country would attempt to create a co-operative atmosphere where both the countries can engage in different fields and strive to build stronger relations with India. India’s presence is felt worldwide and Iran would equally want to exploit this opportunity for the development and prosperity of its citizens and also secure itself from external aggressions knowing the military capability of Indian armed forces.

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