Iran’s 12th Presidential Election will be held on May 19, where moderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani is likely to face a strong challenge from hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi. Although Iran’s president stays subordinate to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who as Supreme Leader has the final say over the West Asian country’s foreign and domestic matters, presidents still wield significant influence.
Ahead of the May 19 poll, President Rouhani has received the valuable endorsement of former President Mohammad Khatami as the figurehead of Iran’s reform movement said: “We will come and vote for Rouhani, for freedom of thought . . . rule of law, human rights and implementation of social and economic justice.” Khatami, who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, has predicted that the incumbent president would be able to secure a second term. He also praised Rouhani for striking a deal with world powers over Iran’s nuclear programme in 2015, stressing: “We should remember where we were and where we are now.”
Rouhani, a proponent of active diplomacy with all countries (including arch-foe America), has said that Iran needs foreign investment and technology to grow its economy. He also underlined the need for Iran to be a safe environment for investors, including Western ones. Rouhani, a proponent of a “less policed” society and less state intervention in people’s lives, claimed that the nuclear deal put his country on a safe track, away from risks of war and on the path to prosperity.
However, many believe that it will be a tough task for Rouhani to win the upcoming election as Tehran’s ‘conservative’ Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf has pulled out of the presidential race and urged his supporters to back jurist Raisi in Friday’s vote. Speaking at a press conference in Tehran on Monday, the former police chief and member of the Revolutionary Guards said that it was vital for the “preservation of the interests of the people, the revolution and the country”.
A former prosecutor general and close ally of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Raisi has assured the Iranian people that he will take a more assertive approach to the West and concentrate on building a self-sufficient “resistance economy”.
However, experts believe that Rouhani, who championed integrating Iran with the global economy and curbed his nation’s nuclear work in exchange for relief from sanctions, will get another opportunity to serve the country as president. Veteran reform-minded analyst Saeed Laylaz said: “Mr Rouhani is not an unknown figure, as he was four years ago, but Mr Khatami’s support can help him gain votes. The main challenge for reformists is to convince those undecided voters who have lost hope in seeing changes.”
Experts are of the opinion that Khatami’s backing will help Rouhani win the election. They explain that the main base of reformists, who dread a return to radical domestic and foreign policies, is the Iranian urban middle class people. These people followed Khatami’s advice before the 2016 Parliamentary Election and did not allow hardliners to dominate the legislative body. There is a possibility that these people will follow the former president’s advice again in 2017.
Moderate politicians in Iran, too, have joined pro-reform groups and requested people to re-elect Rouhani. Although moderates have admitted that the country still suffers from youth unemployment of 26%, they have appreciated Rouhani’s effort to bring down the rate of inflation to 9%. Khatami said that he was well aware of economic hardship, adding that “we should not be fooled by empty and baseless promises . . . which can create major crises that will first affect the poor”.
In the final televised election debate on May 12, President Rouhani promised to seek to have non-nuclear sanctions lifted, if he is re-elected. However, he did not explain how it would be achieved, with Donald Trump occupying the White House. President Trump has already called the nuclear pact “the worst deal I have ever seen”.
Analysts agree Rouhani is “well-positioned” for another term, but some hesitate to make definitive predictions due to Iran’s atmosphere that is full of political surprises.