Much to the surprise of most of the world, cleric Hassan Rowhani won the election and become the new president of Iran. easily out pacing his opposition. While Rowhani received nearly 51% of the vote, his nearest opponent the mayor of Tehran brought in only 18 percents. The greatest surprise is that moderate Rowhani represents a striking repudiation of the the ultraconservatives who have held power in the country. In contrast to the mullahs who actually run the country, Rowhani advocated greater personal freedom and a more reconciliatory approach to international opposition. His election by the people indicates that a vast majority of Iranian voters are tired of the endless confrontations that Ahmadinejad’s term produced.
Of course, in the final analysis the mullahs actually run the country. Ayatollah Khamenei thumbed through a list of candidates who applied to run for president and only selected the final four who were allowed to campaign. Regardless of his hard-line positions on such matters as nuclear armament, the election results will pressure Khamenei to give second thoughts to some of his intransigence. Westerners only get hints about the power struggles that go on behind the scenes in Iran. However, it became clear that Ahmadinejad had gotten crossways with the Ayatollah as he pressed for a more powerful position in the government.
During the reign of reformer Mohammed Khatan, Rowhani had been the lead nuclear negotiator. Of course with his more moderate position, his election raises hopes for a shift in the unyielding position the government has maintained for the pursuit of nuclear capacity. While it is unlikely that there will be an immediate shift, Rowhani does point toward a new path. During the Khatami era, Iran froze its nuclear program and promoted dialogue with the West. Currently the country is struggling under international isolation and seen as being religious reactionary. If Rowhani can change this direction, it would indeed be received as good news across the world.
During the campaign, Hassan Rowhani said, “Let’s end extremism … We have no other option than moderation.” In addition, he opposed the hated morality police who could arrest women for not having their heads covered in the manner the mullahs demanded. Besides favoring the lifting of restrictions on the internet, he supported freeing politial prisoners.
Two-thirds of Iran’s 70 million population are under 35. Rowhani partiularly connected with this younger group. Hard-liners had tried to mold the opinions of the young through internet restrictions and similar harsh measures, but it has not worked. Often American policy toward Iran has been aimed at finding support in this younger group. Rowhani’s election could open the door to a relaxation of tensions that would be good for the entire region.
If Rowhani can reverse the harsh threats Ahmadinejad made against Israel, Iran’s feature will immediately become brighter. Such a shift could actually be a literal life-saver for the region. Let’s hope the new president proves to be a new day.