Rouhani once more

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He returns to power in Iran. But victory is unlikely to smoothen the hurdles for his agenda. Excerpts:

In itself, that Iranian President Hassan Rouhani won the country’s presidential polls held last week, is no surprise — every Iranian president since 1981 has returned to a second term. But there is great significance to Rouhani’s return. In an election with a 70 per cent voter turnout, Rouhani defeated hardline Islamist cleric, Ebrahim Raisi, winning 57 per cent of the ballot, or 23.5 million votes. His supporters look to Rouhani — instrumental in pushing the US-Iran nuclear deal, ending sanctions and allowing foreign investment — to further Iran’s engagement with the world and prevent international isolation. Alongside, Rouhani will have to resuscitate Iran’s ailing economy, impacted by sliding oil prices — one in every four Iranians is unemployed.

Raisi targeted Iran’s parlous economy, but his hardline Islamist stance, accusing Rouhani of compromising on religious values, was un-endearing to many, with younger Iranians and women voters reportedly backing Rouhani for his modern outlook. Rouhani will now have to live up to these expectations and deliver on hopes like the release of political detainees and greater media freedoms. By all accounts, alongside Raisi, who won over 15 million votes, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei doesn’t support Rouhani’s vision either. There will be challenges to Rouhani’s agenda, but so far, the president — who, post-elections, thanked reformist icon Mohammad Khatami, breaking the security forces’ taboo against mentions of Khatami — has indicated his willingness to meet these.

Rouhani’s task will be complicated further by external opponents. In contrast to his predecessor Barack Obama, US President Donald Trump has a bitterly anti-Iran stance, blaming it for the Middle East’s instability, threatening to scrap the US-Iran nuclear deal. Trump used his recent speech in Saudi Arabia mostly to Iran-bash, telling Saudi’s monarchy to “isolate a nation that fuelled… terror”. Hitting at Iran can help the embattled Trump to show himself at odds with Russia, which supports Iran. Surrounded by such complexities, Rouhani faces a difficult path. But he can be buoyed by the Iranians who danced in Tehran’s streets celebrating his win, breaking another taboo.

(Courtesy: The Indian Express)

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