TEHRAN, Iran – Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, is the new president of Iran. Rouhani won the Iranian presidential election on June 14 with an overwhelming majority. Despite international worries of a government crackdown due to the moderate win, the presidential election was absent of the protests marking the 2009 re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Iranians and the world waited to see what the conservative establishment would do in the face of the win but celebrators remain unmolested by police. Mr. Rouhani will take the presidential seat in August.
The president-elect ran on a moderate platform, one of the few non-conservative candidates permitted to run in the election. A mid-level cleric, Mr. Rouhani has managed to outlast many other moderates in the government. He served as the nuclear negotiator under the former moderate president, Mohammad Khatami. Securing the endorsement of former presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, both moderates, just before the election helped boost Mr. Rouhani’s credibility. It is uncertain, however, how Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei will react to Mr. Rouhani’s agenda for Iran. In the Iranian political system the Ayatollah, the supreme cleric, wields final control over policies for the country.
Since his election, Mr. Rouhani has stated his support for a more free and open society. He recently tweeted, “Widespread web filtering will only lead to increase in distrust.” This is a very different stance from the government’s widespread crackdown on social media. The Iranian government blocks millions of Websites and international satellite transmissions. The state-run media does not report the countries’ problems. And Mr. Rouhani has called out the state-media broadcaster, IRIB, for ignoring important problems in Iran.
Mr. Rouhani has called for limited government involvement in personal lives. The morality police, patrolling to ensure citizens do not violate strict Islamic codes, may have reduced restrictions to enforce in the future. His approach to domestic and international affairs may also reflect the Arab Spring’s influence on the region’s governments. With Egypt’s streets once again in turmoil and Iran’s ally Bashir Al-Assad waging an ongoing war, Mr. Rouhani may feel a more moderate stance will be most useful in tamping unrest in Iran.
Mr. Rouhani will also need to confront Iran’s poor economic situation. The country is beset by rampant inflation, significant losses in oil exports, and high unemployment. Iran’s Economic Minister recently reported oil exports have fallen by fifty percent due to the European Union sanctions. Mr. Rouhani’s predecessor, Mr. Ahmadinejad, tried to offset the poor economic situation and unrest with cash handouts for the poorest of the population. This action contributed to the inflation rate hitting 32.3% in April. While Mr. Rouhani has not presented a comprehensive economic plan for his term it is believed he holds a more pro-business stance than his predecessor. Instead of the cash handouts and loans to rural poor he may provide a more business friendly atmosphere in Iran in the effort to support growth and gain control of inflation.
The conservatives still control parliament and with their strong presence in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards they maintain a significant influence over policies. Mr. Rouhani, the nuclear negotiator under Mr. Khatami, may be more open to engaging the West in negotiations but he is unlikely attempt any end to Iran’s nuclear program. Mr. Rouhani will take office August 3rd.
– Callie Coleman
Sources: Business Week, Voice of America, Reuters, New York Times, Al Arabiya