The Iranian presidential election today has become a vote for confidence in President Hassan Rouhani and his four years of office. Iran’s economic recovery, and its reintegration with the global economy has become a key topic in this election.
The achievements of Rouhani’s government were numerous, both domestically and internationally.
The international community reached a historic nuclear agreement with Iran. Iran received in return for releasing its stockpiles of enriched Uranium and placing its nuclear facilities under international inspection. was to be removed of the sanctions which had crippled its national economy.
However, the promise of Iran’s reintegration in the global economy has only partially been fulfilled.
In March 2017, even though the UN Security Council had lifted economic sanctions in January 2016, the Republican-dominated US Congress placed new sanctions against the country. The sanctions were imposed in response to the ballistic tests carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The benefits of UN sanctions being removed have been undercut, even though European states did not follow the US lead and impose new sanctions.
Iran’s financial industry remains isolated, as international banks continue to stay away from the country. This is partly due to fears of penalties for their US operations. This has been a major obstacle to developing economic relations and attracting international investment into Iran’s infrastructure.
The Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces has endorsed both candidates. This conservative electoral coalition was formed in late 2016 to consolidate voter support and to avoid fragmentation of conservative votes, which in 2013 allowed Rouhani’s win with a slim (51% majority.
The message of the conservatives has been tried and tested. They celebrate the “resistance economic” and use pseudo-egalitarian phrases to make a virtue out of Iran’s isolation.
Ebrahim Raisi is supported by many because of his potential qualification to be the next Supreme Leader of Iran and the successor of Ayatollah Khamenei.
He is the custodian for the rich Waqf endowment of Khorasan and promised Iranians a monthly handout of around US$40 to be funded from Iran’s oil revenues. The Waqf, an institution of Islam that provides welfare to the needy and poor, is alms-giving institutionalized. The Waqf of Khorasan is also a major landowner and property owner.
Ebrahim Raisi is on a tour for his campaign to win the 2017 presidential election in Birjand. Tasnim News Agency/Wikipedia, CC BY-NC
This gesture is reminiscent of Ayatollah Rouhollah Khomeini’s promise, made in 1979, that all Iranians would be able to share their nation’s wealth after the revolution, which changed the country from monarchy into the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The former president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad (2005 – 2013) established a monthly payment of US$12. Rouhani, I believe, has found it to be politically convenient to continue the payments.
The candidate of the Supreme Leader
Raisi’s chances of defeating Rouhani are low despite his successful campaign. In a recent poll, Rouhani received 26% of the votes, whereas Raisi and Ghalibaf, when running separately, got 12% and 9%, respectively.
Raisi is gaining in popularity.
Raisi’s claim that he represents the Islamic revolution and has the support of the Supreme Leader is hard to verify. The Supreme Leader has the final say in the Iranian government system. Raisi has not been endorsed anywhere.
The Iranian system. Reuters
Khamenei, who supported Rouhani during the 2013 elections, still approves of Rouhani despite the conservatives’ complaints.
The Supreme Leader knows the economic damage caused by Ahmadinejad, which ultimately put the survival of the Iranian regime at risk. There’s no indication that he prefers a return of isolationist policies.
Iranians are not fools
Professor Sadegh Zibakalam, of Tehran University, told ISNA News Agency in the lead-up to the elections that populist and baseless claims would not mislead Iranian voters. He said that people will ask you how you plan to create jobs. How will you raise money to give out handouts?
Zibakalam may have misplaced his confidence in the ability of voters. His analysis does highlight an important aspect of the presidential race: the conservatives have no economic plan and try to compensate with grandiose rhetoric.
Rouhani’s return to the office will give him an opportunity to complete his agenda to reintegrate Iran into global economy. His appearance in Davos in 2014 and his tour of Europe in 2016 reconnected him with world leaders, and projected a new image of Iran. It was an open country.