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The 2013 Iranian Presidential Elections: Cause for Optimism?

The 2013 Iranian Presidential Elections: Cause for Optimism?

In the 2009 Iranian presidential elections, votes were counted within a mere 6 hours after polling closed; the results were of course highly contentious, as Mahmud Ahmadinejad was re-elected under widespread suspicions of vote-rigging. This year, the counting process took a while longer – perhaps to most people’s relief – and was seen by many as an indication that the vote-tallying process was taken a little more seriously this time.  The announcement by Iran’s ministry of interior of Hassan Rouhani’s victory has been welcomed in most quarters as a progressive step for Iranian politics. Speaking recently at a Chatham House event on the implications of the 2013 presidential elections, Shahram Chubin described Rouhani as a pragmatic technocrat – a description which his fellow panellists Ali Ansari and Arshin Adib-Moghaddam were in agreement with. Shiva Bahlagi adds some colour, observing that

Within Iran’s factional politics, Rouhani traditionally had been counted among the conservatives. As the Guardian Council announced the list of eight candidates who could run for president in May, new political alliances began to take shape. With former president Rafsanjani disqualified by the Guardian Council, he and other politicians associated with the Green Movement rallied behind Rouhani. His campaign was designed to appeal to the reformists and more moderate voters. With the slogan “A government of prudence and hope,” his twitter account featured pictures of former presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami. His campaign regularly tweeted messages in Persian and English with hashtags like #hope, #prudence, #progress, #ruleoflaw, #dialogue, and #development. Hinting to regional uprisings, his campaign posters promised Iran’s disenchanted voters that this is the spring that was behind the winter.

The results were unexpected in many quarters. The election of Rouhani is likely to be accompanied by a shift to a more open and conciliatory diplomatic approach to Iran’s regional policy. Indeed, a reading of events suggests that the outcome of this year’s election constitutes a rejection of the status quo; as Behlagi notes,

Instead, [Iranians] voted to be heard—at the voting polls and in the public squares. As the final election results were announced, crowds filled Tehran’s streets. Some sang protest songs and chanted slogans of the Green Movement, calling for Mousavi to be released. “I warmly shake the hands of all moderates, reformists and principlists,” Rouhani said. “This…was a victory of wisdom, moderation, progress, awareness, commitment, and religiosity over extremism and bad behavior.” It remains to be seen how Rouhani will govern as president, and how his administration will address the growing discontent of the Iranian people.

Whether Rouhani lives up to expectations is of course an open question. According to St. Andrews University’s Ali Ansari, a litmus test of the reformist intentions of Iran’s latest president lies in the release of political prisoners including Mir-Hossein Mousavi – who was put under house arrest following the 2009 elections.

Read more: 

Jadaliyya – Will the Presidential Elections “Cure the Pain” of the Iranian people? – Shiva Balaghi

ECFR – Iran election creates opportunity for better EU ties – Aniseh Bassiri

Jadaliyya – Iran’s Presidential Elections: the Live Embers of a Democratic Opposition Glow – Leyla Shirazi

(Wikimedia Commons image courtesy of Martada Ansari)

Posted in: Iran, Middle East

About the Author:

William Oliver is Nabateans’ editor for international economics and Middle East current affairs. He obtained his degree in History from the School of Oriental and African Studies in London. While his studies focused on the Middle East in the 18th and 19th centuries, William has a long-standing interest in international finance and the political economy of development. William’s work is aimed at understanding how the Middle East integrates with the global economy, and into the wider geopolitical landscape.

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