Iran after the elections
The recent elections in the Islamic Republic of Iran could be considered a turning point in the history of the country. The elections unhesitatingly approved President Rouhani’s moderate policy which achieved the lifting of the sanctions after the conclusion of the agreement with the EU3+3 over its nuclear programme. The resounding victory of the reformists was a vote of confidence in his vision of a great Iran, after years of pressures and tough sanctions.
In a twin election for the parliament and the Assembly of Experts, a legal body who elect the Supreme Leader, Ruhani and his allies won 16 out of the 16 Tehran seats in the 88member assembly, while candidates on the reformist list took all 30 parliamentary seats in the Tehran constituency. It is worth mentioning that the chairman of the Assembly of Experts, Mohammad Yazdi, lost his seat as did Mohammad Mesbah, the spiritual mentor of former conservative President Ahmadinejad. Among the elected MPs, there are some women as well, even though this could not be good news for certain ultra-conservatives in the political spectrum.
In an election of high stakes, the huge turnout, including many young voters, is a significant sign of the wish for change. These young people expect in the post-sanctions Iran that foreign investment will bring more jobs and better living standards as a result of economic growth. The challenge now is internal liberalisation which is sought by reformists through social and economic freedoms.
I was recently in Tehran. Talking to people directly, I felt such a demand by the young generation. However, they have no problem to express their opinion freely, and this was interesting and important. For example, they were not happy with the process of vetting electoral candidates that has led to the exclusion of a good number of candidates, mostly claimed to be reformists. Prominent conservatives oppose the economic reforms proposed by the government and the opening up to the west.
On the other hand, the highly educated Iranians, their hospitality and openness to the foreigners left me greatly impressed. This was the case when I delivered a speech at the Institute for Political and International Studies on “Middle Eastern developments and the Cyprus problem”. Members of this high-calibre think thank put pertinent questions and made comments to the point. The standard of journalism was also impressive. I visited some of the media including the English TV channel called Press TV, News Agency and a newspaper. I was touched when I was given a copy of the newspaper for the blind (Iran sepid) and I was told that this is a daily newspaper. In the magnificent building of the Foreign Ministry I had meetings with the Regional Director and other seasoned diplomats, exchanging views on our bilateral relations which is on the right track. Already, our Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides and Trade Minister Georgios Lakkotrypis visited Tehran, while the Iranian Minister of Justice and high ranking officials from the Foreign Ministry, the ministries of Finance, Higher Education and Social Welfare of Iran have visited Nicosia. It is my educated guess that the visit of President Anastasiades will not be long.
Coming now to the political dimensions of the outcome of the first election since the nuclear deal, we observe that a strong and reformist Iran will adopt a more dynamic foreign policy in the region, where it could antagonise Saudi Arabia even more. Supremacy in the Middle East is the apple of discord.
Acceptance of Iran by the West as well as the East will make life difficult for Turkey and Saudi Arabia, as they support opposing sides in Syria’s civil war. Moreover, Saudi Arabia fears being replaced by Iran as the US primary Persian Gulf ally. Obama’s statement that the nuclear agreement is “a very good deal that achieves one of our most critical security objectives” points to this possibility.
We should be assured of one thing. In the years to come, the region and the world will feel the impact of the recent elections in Tehran, especially if the existing trend could be continued up to the Presidential elections of 2017 in Iran.