What to expect from Ebrahim Raisi's presidency  

What to expect from Ebrahim Raisi's presidency  

Observers believe Raisi is Iran's proxy president and will help protect ageing Supreme Leader Khamenei's legacy and family

Iran's President-elect Ebrahim Raisi. Credit: AFP File Photo

Election of the hardline Iranian judiciary chief, Ebrahim Raisi, as the president of Iran last week through behind the scene manipulation by Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and the Council of Islamic Guardians (a 12-member body of jurists aligned with the Supreme Leader) bodes ill for Iran's economic growth. Moreover, it could lead to a return of political instability in the Middle East. With Raisi's win, Iran's leading institutions, from the presidency, military to parliament and judiciary, have passed into the hands of the conservatives, shifting the country towards a one-party state.

Voter turnout was 48.8 per cent, which was significantly less from the 2017 elections (73.33 per cent), indicating that most people were uninterested in participating, given the considerable backing of the Supreme Leader behind Raisi. Raisi has made bold promises to tackle inflation, create one million jobs annually, promote transparency, and fight corruption to improve his low popularity. While on foreign policy issues, the new Iranian president has taken a hardline position (like Khamenei). Raisi has said he would not meet US President Joe Biden and the Iranian ballistic missile programme, and its regional policies were "non-negotiable".

Also read: PM Modi congratulates Iran's newly elected President Ebrahim Raisi

Speculation is rife as to why Khamenei supported Raisi, who has no experience in politics, governance or diplomacy. According to an Iran expert, Ali Vaez, Khamenei wanted a trusted ally who would safeguard the interests of his son, Mojtaba and not marginalise him like Khamenei sidelined Ayatollah Khomeini and Rafsanjani's families after the death of these founding fathers of Iran's Islamic Republic.

Khamenei, now 82, wants to protect his legacy and family. However, it is a moot point whether Raisi and other organs of state power, particularly the Revolutionary Guards, would back Mojtaba after his father's death. While Iran is negotiating a new nuclear deal with the US, the two sides have agreed on several issues, but some trickier ones remain.

The Biden administration is keen to reach a comprehensive agreement with Iran to roll back Tehran's missile programme and curtail the influence of its regional militias. On its part, Iran has insisted on a written commitment that no future American administration would withdraw from the deal.

Also read: An ultra-conservative at Iran’s helm

Closure of the deal without a more comprehensive agreement will make President Biden open to attacks from the Republicans. The Supreme Leader decides the critical foreign policy issues, but Raisi's election will further weaken the influence of moderates who represented a ray of hope for political and economic liberalisation.

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, another hardliner, has called Raisi a "hangman" who participated in the execution of many innocent Iranians. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and others don't trust (despite some token improvement of relations recently) the Iranian regime. They believe it is bent upon exporting its Shiite revolution to their countries. As the old allies of the US, these countries want a preferred solution that muzzles Iran's nuclear programme and its support to regional militias, which have worked to their detriment.

With the US shifting its military resources from the region to the Indo-Pacific and other theatres, Saudi Arabia and the UAE will rely increasingly on Israel for economic and security assistance. Russia and China will try to expand their influence in Iran but can't still match the outreach of the US. Continued backing of its proxy militias by Iran in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Lebanon will accentuate the spiral of tensions, conflicts and violence in the Middle East and complicate efforts to find a durable solution to the Palestinian problem. Khamenei is more interested in preserving his regime than seeking any broad rapprochement with the US.

Also read: Ebrahim Raisi calls for 'effective' Iran nuclear talks, rules out Biden meet

Raisi's election indicates that Iranians' aspirations for a better life are at odds with a regime that appears unreformable and unbreakable. So long as Iran's security forces back the regime, they would be willing to kill dissenting protestors, and Iran's society remains divided, keeping the tipping point in the regime's favour. Its authoritarian methods will increase schisms, instability, forcing more Iranians to leave the country, thus retarding economic growth. Like other autocrats, Khamenei is more interested in preserving his regime than seeking solutions for Iran's stunted economic growth.

India has been keen to improve its stuttering cooperation with Iran despite the US sanctions on Iranian oil and other economic purchases. It has been working on the early completion of the Chabahar port to improve transportation and connectivity with Afghanistan and the Central Asian states. Since 2018, the port has handled 123 vessels, 13,752 containers and 1.8 million tonnes of cargo. India is now expanding the Shahid Beheshti terminal's capacity from 8.5 million tonnes to 13 million tonnes. Lifting US sanctions will provide new opportunities to India to develop its political and economic linkages with Iran given the country's strategic location, India's substantial energy, trade and other interests and moderate China's growing influence in the country.

The writer is a former Ambassador.

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

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