Victory for change

The victory of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s presidential election is an unambiguous mandate for change.

The least conservative of the eight candidates in the fray, Rouhani won 50.7 per cent of the vote, leaving his closest rival trailing far behind with just 16 per cent of the votes. Rouhani is a moderate reformer and his call for reconciliation and peace struck a chord with voters. At least four of the candidates in the presidential contest professed absolute loyalty to Supreme Leader Ayotollah Ali Khamenei. That Rouhani roundly defeated them all indicates the depth of public weariness with Khamenei’s conservatism. Rohuhani has been a long-standing critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinijad and his victory can be interpreted too as voter rejection of the latter’s aggressive and confrontationist style of politics.

One of the main challenges that president-elect Rouhani faces is reviving Iran’s economy. While he will have to initiate steps domestically to jumpstart it, he will also have to improve relations with the West with a view to ending years of economic sanctions that have strangled the Iranian economy. There are serious doubts too whether he will be able to usher in governance based on justice and respect for human rights that he promised during his campaign. He is bound to come up against opposition from the conservative establishment which will be anxious to retain the status quo.

Rouhani’s victory has raised hopes for an end to the ongoing deadlock between Iran and the US. However, those expecting a dramatic change in Iran’s nuclear policy will be disappointed. There is a consensus in Iran over the country’s right to pursue a programme for nuclear energy. And Rouhani is unlikely to shift away from that. However, he will avoid the hostile rhetoric routinely articulated by Ahmadinijad against the US and seems more amenable to dialogue.  The US has baited Iran for decades and unless that ends, hopes of a new relationship with Teheran will not materialise.

India’s relations with Iran are at a crucial juncture. With NATO troops leaving Afghanistan in 2014, Delhi and Teheran will have to work closely together.  Rouhani’s victory will facilitate this as India will find it easier dealing with a moderate in Teheran. Delhi must reach out to Rouhani immediately.

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