Iran Decides on a New President

“Let’s end extremism,” said Hasan Rowhani during one of his campaign speeches in Iran. “We have no other option than moderation.”

Today, he stands elected as the new President of Iran. And the western world hopes he will stick to his word. Moderation.

The huge confrontational attitude that Iran had had against the West in the last eight years under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, I think, should slowly change. The people of Iran just spoke through their ballots. And, after Saturday’s declaration of results, it is clear that they favour a man who is willing to dialogue with the west, instead of denouncing it.

The very good  turnout of voters on Friday, the election day, and the smooth way the election process, and the declaration of results was done – unlike four years ago, when Ahmadinejad’s re-election was mired in controversy – shows that Iran wants to move on. And it wants to move on in a positive direction, which is more conducive for growth on domestic and international fronts. Less confrontation and more conciliation.

Cleric Hasan Rowhani, is known for his negotiating skill over the country’s nuclear weapons programme and is considered by many as a reformist. But some hard-liners in Iran previously saw him as too liberal and conciliatory. So, will he change the way Iran handled its foreign policy? And will he handle the domestic problems in a better way than his predecessor did? We have to wait and see.

Rowhani may have succeeded in getting over 50% of the votes. But one thing we all know, however, is that in the Islamic Republic of Iran, more than the President, it is the Supreme Leader Ayotollah Khamenei who presides over the mindset of the Iranian public.

Just this week, Ayotollah Khamenei was upset, when USA expressed doubts about fairness in Presidential elections.  He vented out his anger saying, “Recently I have heard that a U.S. security official has said they do not accept this election. OK, the hell with you.”  These remarks spoken shortly after he had cast his vote on Friday morning were broadcast by Iran state television.

So, it may be very hard for Rowhani or any Iranian President to operate outside the Supreme Leader’s influence.

Two candidates seen as hard-line Ayotollah loyalists, including current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and a Khamenei adviser Ali Akbar Velayati, have both been defeated.  Perhaps, if one of them had won, it would have given the Supreme Leader a greater influence. But he will have his influence nevertheless.

Even Tehran’s Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, another conservative candidate who had been running far behind in second place, conceded defeat.

But the fact that the two leading candidates, the first and second, were moderates shows us the new, somewhat liberal, mindset of the young voters – a majority of whom are born after the 1979 Iranian revolution.

Two-thirds of the population of 70 million is under 35 years of age, and it is apparent now that they had a powerful say in Saturday’s election outcome.  

Many analysts feel that the nation is rapidly being divided because the young are against the ruling hard-liners who use the morality police, Internet blocking and other harsh measures to try to mould those born after the 1979 revolution.

So, the moderate approach Rowhani indicated to voters seemed to have tipped the balance in his favour. And the support of two former Presidents, Khatami and Rafsanjani has also increased Rowhani’s appeal. Now, he will have to stick to his promises.

On the international front, the foreign policy of Iran now needs a big revamp.  The talks on nuclear capability can be led to a common ground by this new leader. And the finding of such a common ground could help in the lifting of sanctions. It can save Iran the massive troubles of the current trade embargo. Iran and its people think they can have a better future. And they hope for that from the new leader.

On the domestic front, if a picture speaks a thousand words, then I saw tens of pictures after yesterday’s results, with women on cars with wide grins and large smiles in Tehran, spraying confetti, celebrating the victory of Rowhani.  Something we did not see much in earlier elections.

From the editorials of leading newspapers around the world, it is clear that many have welcomed Rowhani’s election with more open arms than they had done with Ahmedinejad’s. Inside Iran and Outside.

It is a sure indication that people are hoping for a less constrictive and more inclusive society.