Iran gets a ‘reformist loyalist’ president

Iran gets a ‘reformist loyalist’ president

Masoud Pezeshkian will shape and manage the State and regime for a long time, making him the main man in Iran.

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Last Updated : 10 July 2024, 07:17 IST

In a public speech at the Imam Khomeini Shrine in Tehran on July 6 evening after the result of the runoff in Iran’s presidential elections was announced, the president-elect ‘reformist’ candidate Masoud Pezeshkian made an intriguing remark crediting the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s guidance for the peaceful election process, and the accurate counting of votes. 

 As he put it, “During this peaceful election process, with votes accurately counted, I must first thank the Leader of Islamic Revolution. Without his guidance, I do not believe my name would have emerged from these ballots. It was through his leadership that we were able to reach this point.” 

 Turning Pezeshkian’s remark around, the big question will be whether the Supreme Leader got the electoral outcome he had wanted. Pezeshkian is perceived as a second-tier ‘reformist’ who often recites the Quran and is an expert on Nahjul Balagha, a compilation of sermons and sayings attributed to the first Shia imam, Ali, a book that holds a special place among Shia in Iran.

 Born in the Kurdish-majority city of Mahabad in West Azerbaijan Province as the son of an Azeri father and Kurdish mother, Pezeshkian spent the formative years of childhood and much of his adulthood in Tabriz, the ancient city of Azerbaijani culture. Azeris are descendants of Seljuks who migrated from Central Asia to Iran and to Turkey as a last destination, and had played significant roles in the formation of Safavid and Ottoman empires (and sharing a common Turko-Mongolian heritage with the Mughal dynasty.)

It is difficult to bracket Pezeshkian with Iran’s two previous ‘reformist’ presidents: Muhammad Khatami and Hassan Rouhani. He is a non-cleric, and his mixed ethnic ancestry sets him apart. Besides, during these past 19 years in hibernation, exiled from power, Iran’s ‘reformism’ mutated.

To put it plainly, under the rubric of ‘reformism’, Pezeshkian hopes to present a new model of governance. He harped on certain key elements during his campaign. First, the prioritisation of economic and social justice; second, economic statism with a human face projecting specific programmes targeting the dispossessed and disadvantaged; third, co-operation and engagement with other centres of power; fourth, tempering of resistance politics with diplomacy; fifth, emphasis on social capital — shared values or resources; and, sixth, accent on networks of relationships, and convergence to effectively achieve a common purpose. 

Pezeshkian had an extraordinarily long meeting with Khamenei on July 6 following which rival candidate Saeed Jalili who used to be aide to the Supreme Leader called on him. Later, in a formal congratulatory message to Pezeshkian, Khamenei noted that “It is appropriate that the competitive behaviour of the election period becomes the norms of camaraderie, and everyone should strive for the material and spiritual prosperity of the country as much as possible.” He advised Pezeshkian “to continue the path” of late President Ebrahim Raisi. Indeed, throughout his campaign, Pezeshkian himself acknowledged the limits of presidential power. Taken together, the epithet ‘reformist loyalist’ has come to define Pezeshkian.

Certain influential figures from the Principlist (‘conservatives’) camp later joined Pezeshkian’s campaign during the runoff. Notably, Vahid Haghanian, a long-time aide to the Leader, announced his support for Pezeshkian. Possibly, a reshuffling of cards for the runoff saw Pezeshkian emerge triumphant. Suffice to say, certain objectives were realised — enhanced voter turnout (around 50%) boosted the legitimacy of the election; radicals were removed from the race for the presidency; and the potential threat of a bigger role of the Sepah groups in the political arena was nixed. 

This is hugely important because although Pezeshkian is a non-cleric and will not be among the candidates to become Iran’s next Supreme Leader, he will still be at the top of the pyramid during the transitional phase in which a new Leader will be chosen, and his endorsement could be consequential. Pezeshkian is an extraordinary politician who is not tainted — not even remotely — by corruption scandals. The bottom line is that Pezeshkian will shape and manage the State and regime for a long time, making him the main man in Iran operating within a meticulously calibrated moral system. 

But an ethical ambivalence is also built into the system as Iranian Principlists are a very heterogeneous party and within the two blocs of radicals and pragmatists, there are parties and groups with conflicting interests, competing for influence and resources. Conceivably, a group of clergy from the ‘Rahbar’s environment’ (Leader’s circle) is behind this political twist. Pezeshkian publicly expressed his profound gratitude for rahbar’s silent patronage. 

(M K Bhadrakumar is a former diplomat.)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author's own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.


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