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Speaker(s): Professor Anoush Ehteshami
Chair: Dr Toby Dodge
Recorded on 27 November 2013 at Wolfson Theatre, New Academic Building
The victory of Rouhani represents the defeat of the most peripheral groups in the Iranian political spectrum. In a day, one could say, Ahmadinejad and his supporters arguably lost all of their clout and popular appeal. The support they had amassed during the previous eight years apparently melted away, with no-one in the end making a fuss about the rejection of Ahmadinejad’s candidate for the presidency. This is the first significant development to note – the neoconservative order has been shattered.
Secondly, we can also say that this election result provides evidence for seeing the election process, for all its constraints and conditionalities, not as ideological but rather highly circumstantial – perhaps, personal. Public sentiment drove support for Khatami in 1997 and Ahmadinejad in 2005, and played its role in the voters’ support for Rouhani in 2013. The political ground shifted very quickly in all these three elections once the final victor had managed to make a positive impression on the electorate. Thirdly, in this instance, there was another struggle going on: that between the Leader and the urban voters. Thus, fourthly, in supporting Rouhani’s candidacy, the latter wanted to send a strong message to the Leader to the effect that they were against the policies implemented by the previous government which he had so emphatically endorsed. Though himself doubtless an establishment figure, Rouhani nevertheless came to represent an alternative to the order created by the previous Leader-endorsed administration. Thus, when asked about their electoral preferences, many Iranians simply replied that they selected their preferred candidate on the basis of how ‘different’ they were from the incumbent president. What are the implications of this shift in policy terms?
Finally, given this context and background, it is fair to ask, what drives President Rouhani’s worldview and what constitutes his foreign policy agenda? What does his election victory tell us about Iran and the where it might be heading?