Moderate cleric Rouhani wins Iran polls

Hassan T Darian 18 June 2013

Hassan Rouhani, the moderate cleric candidate and former nuclear negotiator has been elected the 11th president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the face of tough economic and political sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union, last week the country elected a new leader.Candidacy was not, however, open to all. From over 600 registered candidates a final eight men were approved as politically and religiously fit to stand by the countries conservative body, the guardian council.

With sanctions blamed for the countries double digit inflation and sliding currency, foreign policy and engagement with the west was the number one agenda in the run up to the election, with the top candidates including two nuclear negotiators, one former foreign minister and Tehran Mayor and former police chief Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf.

From the outset the conservatives were divided. The hardliner right backing the current nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, and the remaining conservative candidates each claiming to have a strong group of followers, refusing to withdraw, the reformist camp took advantage of the divided conservatives and united behind their candidate Hassan Rouhani.

With no clear winner evident, and the conservative vote split between 4 candidates, the election was posed for a second round. However, last minute backing from popular former presidents Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami, followed by withdrawal of the reformist candidate Mohammad Reza Aref in Rouhani’s favour significantly boosted Rouhani’s campaign and overall chances.

Lawyer, politician and diplomat, Hassan Rouhani was educated in judicial law in the 1970s at the old Glasgow Polytechnic (now Glasgow Caledonian University), returning in the 1990s to undertake a law doctorate. Rouhani came to prominence in 2003 as Iran’s nuclear negotiator with the EU big three – Britain, France and Germany – helping to negotiate the Saadabad declaration which subsequently saw Iran voluntarily suspend uranium enrichment, avoiding further escalation of accusations and easing western pressure. In the following days of the election of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Rouhani resigned as head of the Supreme National Security Council after 16 years (the post would later be succeeded by Saeed Jalili).

As news that Rouhani had achieved just over 50% of the electoral vote (therein avoiding a runoff) was announced, spontaneous street celebrations broke out across Iran. Hope and prospects for national reconciliation are currently at a high, but it remains to be seen if Rouhani’s victory can really bring about significant change and a transformation in Iran’s troubled relations with the international community.

Hassan T Darian