Iran is considered to be a closed society and the future of Iran under Rouhani may be uncertain. Rouhani had taken his place as the country’s top leader after former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad left office in 2013. If we look past The last election was marked by the rise of moderates in the main conservative camp. Despite ongoing president Rouhani’s rhetoric and slogans, he had not done anything that would make him seem threatening to the US.
With Hassan Rouhani’s presidency starting in 2013, Iran made efforts to reform its image to its neighbours and the West alike. For instance, President Obama’s phone call with Rouhani was a pivotal moment for Iranian diplomacy in the eyes of many Americans which later lead to the West-Iran nuclear agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) during Trump’s presidency. Though this decision was met with both criticism and praise in Iran as well as abroad and later on suspended. However, it is clear that cooperation between Iran and the West has never been higher before or since then.
This presidential election is Iran’s first since the nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers, which saw curbs placed on Iran’s nuclear program in return for a lifting of international sanctions. The newly declared president Ebrahim Raisi, an outspoken hardliner, is backed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr Raisi has built a strong social media presence and is believed to have the backing of the powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), the military and political powerhouse Council of Guardians (Shura-e-Negahban). The positive outcome of the arms control agreement in the current scenario is in serious doubt following the United States’ withdrawal and Iran’s noncompliance. But then again some see an opening for renewed diplomacy as history reflects decisions made by hardliners are often seen as impenetrable patriotic acts in comparison to moderators.
The pro-democracy movement in Iran started in 1978, with demonstrations against the Iranian Monarchy and the Shah. The demonstrations led to an 18-day revolution to overthrow the Shah. The victory of the revolution was short-lived, as a mixed system of government, under the domination of the clergy, was imposed. At the head of both the state and oversight institutions is a ranking cleric known as the ‘Rahbar’ (leader) whose duties and authority are superior to the head of state. A series of organised protests erupted in 2009 following allegations of a fraudulent election. To face them government adopted every possible means making it one of the brutal regimes in history.
It has been evident from history post-industrial era that when governments fail to honour the nation’s will, they try to limit their right to information. The Iranian government in retaliation to protests restricted freedom of the press through its harsh laws against dissenters. New laws were introduced and in the name of “propaganda against the system,” six months imprisonment to death penalties were awarded under then chief justice and now elected president Ebrahim Raisol-Sadati commonly known as Ebrahim Raisi. His stern decisions against reformists have earned him a reputation as a hard-liner with little patience for political dissent. Many believe that it was the result of Ebrahim Raisi’s harsh policies against media and dissenters which made him a favourite in the eyes of The council of guardians and they paved the road to his success by disqualifying prominent political figures. The Guardian Council disqualified nearly all nonconservative including former president Ahmadi Nejad and current vice president Ishaq Jahangiri (allowing only 7 out of 592 candidates), narrowing the choice among moderates and reformists while deepening the apathy of would-be voters. Iran dissidents and some agitators have called for a boycott seeing no other solution, saying the excluding of several contestants has removed any genuine competition.
As Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei runs the country’s foreign policy, defence, and The Guardian Council very little is left for the president. Unlike other countries, where an elected head of the state enjoys true power, the president of Iran does not have full control over the government, which is ultimately under the control of the Supreme Leader. However, as Ebrahim Raisi has full support and back of all major power stakeholders he can make a difference and play a role of a bridge between orthodox and democratic Iran which is the need of the time. In these hard times (internal and external) where a patriotic like Ahamadi Nijad (on media forum) has warned to spill out dark secrets of power corridors, political and social reforms are much needed and the only solution, in ongoing president Hassan Rouhani’s own words “The soul of an election is competition, If you take out the competition, it [election] becomes like a soulless body, and collapses.”
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