Iranian voters have followed the path shown by the French people, as they have re-elected moderate President Hassan Rouhani.
The Iranian Interior Ministry confirmed on Saturday night that Rouhani, the 68-year-old moderate cleric who spearheaded a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, bagged 57% or 23.5 million votes compared to 38.3% or 15.8 million votes for hardline challenger Ebrahim Raisi.
Sandwiched between elections in France and South Korea on the one hand and Britain and Germany on the other, Iran voted for its new president on May 19 and people across the West Asian country backed the incumbent president. Once again, they voted for reform, and not for populism. The outcome of the election clearly shows that Iranians are happy with the nuclear deal that Rouhani scripted with the US two years ago. So, they have decided to strengthen the moderates and modernisation of their country.
Raisi, Rouhani’s 56-year-old rival, tried hard to showcase himself as a representative of poor section of people from the very beginning. The conservative leader’s trump card was anti-West hardline ideology. Raisi is also known as close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top religious leader. According to diplomats, Raisi’s defeat has proved that the Iranian people are matured enough to overcome religious sentiments. They have realised the fact that Iran will have to maintain cordial ties with the international community in order to ensure a steady economic growth (after facing financial sanctions over the years).
Rouhani was born on November 12, 1948 in Sorkheh, Iran. He has a Doctorate Degree from the University of Glasgow, Scotland. In 2017, Rouhani started his campaign with the message of change and social independence. He repeatedly called his opponent ‘hardliner’ during election campaign.
The defeat for Raisi means Iranians still trust President Rouhani, who is trying hard to normalise ties with the West and the US, and to boost the national economy. After two years of tension, the Rouhani administration signed a nuclear agreement with America and other global powers in July 2015. The deal prompted the US and its Western allies to soften stand on Iran’s nuclear programme. With the lifting of sanctions taking place in phases, people know that economic benefits will take time to materialise. “For me, Mr Rouhani’s dialogue with the world and moderation in society are very important,” said Zahra, a 32-year-old PhD student in food science. Under Rouhani’s predecessor, hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “the sanctions really hurt us. It was hard to get lab equipment and very difficult to get visas to study abroad. Now my colleagues can travel to France and the US,” she told the press.
Despite the victory, Rouhani is facing a lot of challenges. Oil sales have rebounded since the nuclear deal took effect in January 2016, but growth in the rest of the economy has been limited, leaving unemployment at 12.5% overall, and almost 30% for young people. Rouhani’s win in the Presidential Poll has implications for regional politics. If supreme Iranian leader Ayatollah Khamenei (77) dies during President Rouhani’s second term, this election could influence the choice of his successor. Iranian people are well aware of the fact that the character of next supreme leader (hardline or moderate) will influence the (regional) geopolitics from Syria to Saudi Arabia.
A number of world leaders, including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Emir of Kuwait Sabah al Ahmad al Jaber al Sabah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, have sent congratulatory messages to President Rouhani, felicitating him on being re-elected as the country’s president in Friday’s election. In his message, President Putin said that Moscow is prepared for co-operation with Tehran in the bilateral and international arenas. The Russian leader also called for efforts to implement agreements between the two countries, including a recent one signed during President Rouhani’s visit to Moscow in March. Putin stressed that Moscow would work together with Tehran to maintain political stability and security throughout the world, including West Asia.