The Herald on Sunday
Just how much more pressure can Iranians take?
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FRANKLY, it’s hard to describe Iran’s presidential election last Friday as anything other than rigged. What else can you call it when ordinary Iranians are “free” to vote for the regime’s pre-approved candidates?
Confirmation of the result came yesterday was what most election-watchers expected – that the outcome was a win for the political hardliners and likely Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative Shia cleric who heads the country’s judiciary.
That Raisi would become Iran’s next president was always on the cards after the Guardian Council, a 12-member body of jurists and clerics closely aligned with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, vetted the candidates for office.
Of the 592 candidates who stepped up for the presidential race the Guardian Council approved only seven men, of whom Raisi is the most prominent.
Raisi has something of an unsavoury reputation on the human rights front with rumours that he rarely leaves Iran for fear of arrest over the execution of as many as 5,000 political prisoners in 1988.
So, just what then does the election of a hardliner like Raisi mean for ordinary Iranians and what kind of response can the West expect from such a regime?
The first thing worth noting is that with these elections the hardliners will have all the core components of power under their control. In real terms this means an even more puritanical system of Islamic government, implementing the vision of the Supreme Leader.
As for ordinary Iranians themselves it means that their lives will be bound by even tighter restrictions. Women especially will likely fare even worse than they have under the outgoing centrist presidency of Hassan Rouhani.
It was Rouhani, of course, who back in 2013, promised that his election had “opened a new chapter” with Iranians dancing in the streets in the hope that his term in office would bring a return to normality.
“Your government of prudence and hope will materialise its promise of saving the country’s economy, reviving ethics and establishing constructive interaction with the world,” insisted Rouhani.
But, ultimately, he went on to oversee a country where the economy went into freefall, debt racked up, the Iran nuclear deal collapsed, and only two women were appointed to Rouhani’s cabinet.
In short, it was far from what most Iranians had hoped for and now they can expect even less after the latest power grab by Raisi and the hardliners.
For his part, Raisi has already said that should he win, he will support ongoing negotiations between Tehran and the nuclear deal’s remaining signatories – the UK, France, Germany, Russia, and China – that are intended to broker an agreement that would lead to the US rejoining the accord and the removal of sanctions. But most Iran-watchers expect Raisi to adopt a far more conservative approach by which improving relations with the West will figure low on list of his priorities.
The simple fact remains that most hardliners were never happy in the first place about the nuclear deal or joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA) as it’s officially known.
Raisi has something of an unsavoury reputation on the human rights front with rumours that he rarely leaves Iran for fear of arrest
It’s far more likely that what we will now see is Tehran drawing ever closer to Beijing as the new regime seeks the billions of dollars of Chinese investment that it needs to claw its way out of the deep economic crisis Iran currently finds itself in.
The reluctance of many Iranian voters on Friday to turn out for the elections also tells us much about what lies ahead.
This shunning had less to do with apathy than being a way of expressing disapproval of the new regime.
It was, in effect, a boycott and the laying down of a marker by those Iranian people who remain desperate for reform.
While Iran might never have been a true democracy at least over the past four decades there was always a degree of choice and competition in elections for president and parliament. As the country moves to what is effectively a one-party state, it remains to be seen just how much more pressure the Iranian people can take. In a nutshell, expect Iran to remain in the global headlines – but perhaps more than ever for all the wrong reasons.