Iran, a second term for Rouhani: all the challenges ahead

Hassan Rouhani secured his second term as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran. He will have to face three main challenges: 1) domestic (economy and unemployment); 2) international (following the Iran deal path in the Donald Trump's era), regional (accelerating diplomacy and soft power in the Middle East, trying to keep the balance with its "natural rival": Saudi Arabia).

It is May 20, about six o'clock in the morning in Italy, (8:30 am in Teheran) when the political deputy to the Minister of Interior, Ali-Asghar Ahmadi, breaks the news with the very first results. Hassan Rouhani, the incumbent and moderate president, is ahead with 14,619 million votes to 10,125 million of his challenger, the ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raeisi (who is likely to succeed the Supreme leader Ali Khamenei), out of a total of 25 million votes.

As every president in post-revolutionary Iran since 1981, Rouhani has won a second term. He also, obtained several votes in the rural areas: this means that beyond cities more people trusted his work, it also can be interpreted as a victory of continuity over populism.

The announcement is also broadcast live on Twitter by Press TV, the English-language service owned by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB).

 Ali Asghar AhmadiAli Asghar Ahmadi

Final results

Around 2 pm the final results are out and confirm Rouhani's victory. He won his second chance to be president with 57 per cent of votes, such as 23.549.616 out of a 41.220.131 total preferences. Raeisi obtained 15.786.449 votes, 38,5 per cent. The two other minor candidates in the race, hardliner Mostafa Mirsalim, e reformist Mostafa Hashemi Taba, got 478.215 and 215.450 votes.

Over 40 million Iranians went to the polls to elect the new president of the Islamic Republic. The turnout exceeded 70 percent. The images of long lines of Iranians waiting to vote have appeared in the international media around the world. In order to allow everyone to attend, the closing time of the polls - originally scheduled for 8 pm local time - was first extended by two hours, but at various locations, voting operations continued until midnight.

(Reuters)(Reuters)

Rouhani's long run and the surprises of the election campaign

It was June 14, 2013 when Rouhani was elected president for the first time, with more than 50 percent of votes. The current Tehran mayor, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, withdrew four days before his appointment to the polls in favor of Raeisi.

Rouhani casting his vote (Reuters)Rouhani casting his vote (Reuters) 

Indeed, just last May 15, when the vote was really close, Ghalibaf announced his withdrawal, leaving the battle to the two major contenders (Rouhani and Raeisi). Twenty-four hours later, reformist vice-president Eshaq Jahangiri followed the same path and left the race, asking his supporters to choose Rouhani, deeming him as the right man for "a strong diplomacy" to remove "the shadow of the war from Iran" .

President’s agenda and challenges: from economy to a "peaceful" foreign policy

If Rouhani's agenda looks forward to "freedom, peace, security and progress," and the president’s intention is to promote a "peaceful foreign policy", Rouhani will now have to deal with his internal and external interlocutors, in order to keep trekking the path that had already begun during the first term: economic openness and dialogue with the West, precisely Europe in the first place.

Internal challenges, however, concern the economy that has not yet taken off after the JCPOA [the nuclear agreement, here the full text], signed in 2015. If 2016 was the year zero of Tehran, or the post-sanctions era (with the implementation of the Iran Deal between 5 + 1, the EU and Iran for the suspension of restrictive measures imposed by the European Union and the United Nations against the Islamic Republic), 2017 will have to be the year of confirmations and stabilization.

As already noted, not all sanctions were lifted [see here], but Rouhani’s Iran has effectively returned to the international market, as it has not been for years, and its banks have been reconnected to the Swift system.

The country that Rouhani had managed to handle in 2013 was a troubled Iran. The country had experienced two terms under conservative and populist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who had brought the inflation rate to 40% and unemployment to 12.3%, but also cut State aids to fuel and led to price rises also on light and gas in homes. Furthermore, years of international sanctions had prevented the financial sector and trade between Iran and Europe, as well as the export of energy resources, trade relations in the fields of technology, gold, etc. [here all the measures].

Four years later, Rouhani can draw his conclusions in order to go on with his work:

1) He obtained the historic agreement on nuclear power and lifting of the sanctions;

2) he was able to handle delicate relations with conservatives, the Revolutionary Guards, but above all with the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei;

3) He managed to reduce the inflation rate to 9.5%, a record in twenty-five years.

Despite the positive results, Iranians are still waiting for answers on four main fronts:

1) unemployment, at 12.8 per cent, reaching 30 per cent when it comes to young people;

2) working conditions and wages [here the Rouhani plan for employment, which envisages the creation of 900 thousand jobs a year];

3) Economic revival, especially in the industrial sector: production fell 2.9% at the beginning of 2016;

4) social inequalities [here's World Bank numbers] still remain a trap from which to emerge.

Beyond domestic priorities, Rouhani will have to accelerate regional diplomacy and trade and to secure the Iran Deal implementation in the Donald Trump's era as US president.

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