Iran held presidential elections this past Friday, the 14th of June. After a lively campaign on economics and foreign policy issues, and a few key events that paved the way to the victory, moderate/reformist Hassan Rouhani came out as winner from the electoral competition. He argued that is victory means that moderation wins over extremism in Iran.
Rouhani won with the overall support of the moderate and the reformist camp, and counted amount his major supporters former presidents Khatami and Rafsanjani, and current presidential candidate Ali Akbar Velayati, who withdrew in favour of Rouhani. Moreover, Khamenei also pledged support for Rouhani, which were all serious indicators of who will win the elections.
Although statistics showed a lack of serious popular support for Rouhani, the people mostly supporting Jalili, political support definitely stood behind Rouhani. Despite the supposed lack of initial public support, Rouhani achieved a landslide victory with more than 50% of the votes with an unusually high turnout, therefore winning already in the first round. Several million people celebrated his victory in the streets. Khamenei congratulated both the Iranian people for the high turnout, and Rouhani also for his successful victory.
His victory, however he achieved it, is definitely a sign of a will to soften Iran’s political stance in the international arena. Rouhani told the press that he planned to introduce a new tone of respect and patience into Iranian foreign policy making, and pledged to stand up against extremism and ill-temper. He represents a nuanced and conciliatory approach both in general foreign policies and especially in the nuclear negotiations. His being the president will give a chance to restart nuclear negotiations, and the US was quick to welcome the change of Iran’s government and initiate a path toward negotiations.
Washington declared being willing to engage Iran directly over the disputed nuclear issue, and reach a diplomatic solution on this matter so as to address the international community’s concerns. Despite these hopes, Israel remains sceptic as per the resolution of the matter, because, as the foreign minister pointed out, Khamenei and not the president hold the upper hand in decision-making over national security issues. Israel also called on the international community to remain strict in pressuring Iran to stop uranium enrichment.
On the other and, Russia welcomed Rouhani and expressed confidence that Russian-Iranian relations will remain friendly, and keep flourishing. In addition, Western European powers are ready to work with Rouhani, but also called on the new regime to revise its stance on the nuclear programme.
Regionally, Rouhani is equally welcomed, but the government change may influence issues concerning the ongoing Arab Spring. The Syrian opposition called on Rouhani to revise Iranian support to the Syrian regime. This is unlikely to significantly change, but there is a chance of softening. The Gulf countries, primarily the Emirates, also congratulated Rouhani and expressed their wish to work together efficiently and in a friendly environment, even though the Sunni majority countries are wary of any change and transformation of their Shiite neighbour. However, Islam can now emerge as a common basis for foreign policies and relations between these countries. Still, it remains to be seen to what degree Rouhani can address the country’s inner problems.