Sunday, June 16, 2013

Iranian Elections Result in Victory of "Moderate" Hassan Rohani -- Does It Matter?

All candidates with a chance of winning are either related to the leader or to the security apparatus...It is not in shades of grey, but all black.
Comment by Western diplomat to AFP on Iranian election, May 23 in Iran stacks poll with safe Khamenei men

Back in May, Secretary of State John Kerry was similarly pessimistic about the Iranian elections:
The council narrowed a list of almost 700 potential candidates down to the sort of officials of their choice based solely on who represents the regime’s interests, obviously, rather than who might represent some different point of view among the Iranian people. That is hardly an election by standards which most people in most countries judge free, fair, open, accessible, accountable elections. The lack of transparency obviously makes it highly unlikely that that slate of candidates is either going to represent the broad will of the Iranian people or represent a change of any legitimate kind.
Now the Iranian elections are over and the winner is 64 year old Hassan Rouhani. While there are a variety of issues foreign and domestic that Rouhani will have to deal with, the one that is the most pressing is Iran's nuclear program.

Hassan Rouhani
New Iranian President Hassan Rouhani -- New Leader
or Rubber-Stamping Figurehead? Credit: Wiki Commons

According to the Lebanese Daily Star, Rouhani is a moderate who can resolve the nuclear impasse with the West:
[F]or many reformists and liberals in Iran, the 64-year-old Rouhani is somewhat of a mirror image of the elder Rafsanjani by reflecting his outlook that Iran can maintain its nuclear program and ease tensions with the West at the same time.
All that means is to what degree Rouhani can get the US to withdraw sanctions while Iran continues its program.

The US for its part officially welcomed the results of the Iranian election -- regardless of what it thought of that election just last month:
We have seen the announcement by the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran that Hojjatoleslam Doctor Hassan Rouhani has been declared the winner of Iran’s presidential election. We respect the vote of the Iranian people and congratulate them for their participation in the political process, and their courage in making their voices heard. Yesterday’s election took place against the backdrop of a lack of transparency, censorship of the media, Internet, and text messages, and an intimidating security environment that limited freedom of expression and assembly. However, despite these government obstacles and limitations, the Iranian people were determined to act to shape their future.

It is our hope that the Iranian government will heed the will of the Iranian people and make responsible choices that create a better future for all Iranians. The United States remains ready to engage the Iranian government directly in order to reach a diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.
This is a far cry from Kerry's claim that it was "highly unlikely that that slate of candidates is either going to represent the broad will of the Iranian people or represent a change of any legitimate kind" -- but hope springs eternal.

Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief went so far as to claim that Iran's Rohani Has 'Strong Mandate' to Govern:
The European Union's foreign policy chief said Saturday that the result of the Iranian election gave Hassan Rohani a "strong mandate" to govern and said she was ready to continue talks on Iran's nuclear program.
The actual article quoting Ashton provided a contrast that makes Ashton's comments particularly comical:
Western officials have indicated they hope to resume nuclear talks in July following April's failed talks in Kazakhstan. The talks on Iran's nuclear activities have dragged on for a decade.

"I wish Mr. Rohani well in forming a new government and in taking up his new responsibilities," Ms. Ashton said in a statement. "I remain firmly committed to working with the new Iranian leadership towards a swift diplomatic solution of the nuclear issue."
No doubt a new leader -- rubber-stamped by Khamenei -- is just what the situation calls for. Considering Rouhani's declared goal to ease tensions without compromising Iran's nuclear program, it is not clear the source of Ashton's apparent optimism is not clear.

Barry Rubin provides a more objective view of the Iranian election results, noting that although many Iranians will be happy with the results -- and in fact they are already celebrating in the streets of Iran -- the fact remains:
Rowhani will have little power. Remember that a moderate already served eight years as president [Muhammad Khatami] and accomplished nothing. Rowhani is clearly loyal to the regime or he wouldn’t have been the only reformist candidate who was approved for the election by the regime...At any rate, while the Iran regime has not changed policy really, many will think it has done so. If the regime really wanted to change its aggressive and nuclear-oriented policy, it would have put into power a regime supporter who would announce a new set of positions.
And appearance is all that matters -- to Iran, and apparently for Ashton as well. Expect the fruitless negotiations to continue where they left off, going nowhere.

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