Thousands of Iranians gathered in the streets of Tehran earlier this week after hearing the final vote count in the Islamic Republic’s presidential election. Hassan Rouhani, a favorite among many young Iranians, won more than 50% of the vote, avoiding a runoff with more conservative candidates.
While Rouhani ran on a platform of improving relations with the the outside world and re-invigorating the country’s struggling economy, he should not be considered a reformer. Iran’s new president-elect is a regime insider who denounced the reformist green opposition movement in 2009. Ironically, many reformist backed leaders him in this month’s vote. During the campaign Rohani said, “Centrifuges should spin, but so should industries and people’s livelihoods,” showing his continued support for Iran’s uranium enrichment program in defiance of the international community. Nevertheless, the president-elect called for a “détente” with neighboring countries, marking a style change from the current, outspoken president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
A supporter of cleric Hassan Rohani gestures with a picture of him as she celebrates his victory in Iran’s presidential election. (Photo: Reuters)
World leaders expressed caution that Rouhani’s victory would mark a change in Iran’s nuclear ambitions. U.S. officials hope to “engage Iran directly” and find a “diplomatic solution that will fully address the international community’s concerns” with Tehran’s uranium enrichment program. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the international community to not “give in to wishful thinking or temptation and loosen the pressure on Iran for it to stop its nuclear program.”
In the end, Iran’s election highlights the power of two long standing trends. First, Iran is not a democracy. Over 700 candidates registered to contest the presidency, but Iran’s powerful Guardian Council, which reports to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, rejected all but eight. Second, Khamenei continues to dictate Iran’s foreign policy and nuclear program, failing to accept a recent U.S. offer for talks in February. Specifically, a new centrist face allows Khamenei to play “good cop-bad cop” with the West, sending mixed messages to the international community over Iran’s continued nuclear program.