Media Survey:

Iran Elections 2013

24 Jun, 2013    ·   4008

Somya Chhabra analyses reports in the media on the victory of Hassan Rouhani in the conclusion of Iran's elections

Somya Chhabra
Somya Chhabra
Research Intern

A day before the long-awaited presidential elections in Iran took place, the New York Times profiled Hassan Rouhani as one of the few prominent politicians proposing better relations with the outside world, and consequently, being mocked by the other five conservative candidates (‘A Guide to Iran’s Presidential Elections’, The New York Times, 13 June 2013).

Ironically, the same moderate has managed to win a landslide victory in the elections that took place on 14thJune, just shy of 51 percent of the votes. This surprising turn of events has garnered worldwide attention and has also raised the hopes of an impending solution to Iran’s problems. After almost a decade of animosity under Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, will the new leadershipbring about any reconciliation with the West? Will this democratic victory bring about any shift in Iran’s authoritarian regime? With the help of media reports, this article puts forth the varied reactions to the 2013 elections.

A Thawing in Relations with the West?
Rouhani, a moderate cleric and a long-standing establishment figure in Iran, has largely been considered as the best possible candidate for easing Iran’s hostile relations with the West and also for deescalating a nuclear stand-off. He is largely predisposed to compromise, diplomacy and cooperation. In the light of rising inflation and unemployment, he has drawn his support based on his stance on domestic economic and social issues (‘Iran’s next President, Hassan Rouhani, seen as best hope for ending nuclear standoff with west’, The Washington Post, 15 June 2013). Rouhani has, thus, campaigned on the rhetoric of moderation, technocracy and rapprochement with the west (‘Victory for the Islamic Republic’, The Economist, 17 June 2013). According to the French daily Liberation, his election is a surprise which needs to be duly welcomed and the German daily Sueddetsche Zeitung claims that Rouhani has what it takes to become a strong president (‘Iran Elections: World media cautiously optimistic’, BBC, 17 June 2013).

There has been hope in the west that this victory would herald a new era of cooperation after 8 years of isolation. Rouhani is a known figure in the West as he was the Chief Nuclear Negotiator of Iran from 2003-2005, during which Iran had halted its nuclear enrichment programme. He is, therefore, seen to be amiable and open to argument. He has also pledged that Tehran would engage in more active and transparent negotiations with the 5+1 (P5 plus Germany) as well as the International Atomic Energy Agency. The new President, however, is also a supporter of Iran’s peaceful Uranium enrichment process, and on the issue of the contentious nuclear programme, the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, is the final authority (‘No change on Iran’s uranium enrichment and nuclear programme, says President elect Hassan Rouhani’, The Independent, 17June 2013).

The election results have prompted two sets of reactions among analysts in the U.S. While some see it as a democratic triumph, others consider it a diplomatic façade, with the motive of reducing the pressure of sanctions on a decaying economy. It will be a challenge for the U.S., which is a key player in monitoring sanctions, to rightly interpret this election and use it to its advantage (‘Iranian actions speak louder than election results’, The Washington Post, 18 June 2013).

Discordant Notes in the Neighbourhood
While the West is hopeful but cautious, thecountries of the middle-east view this development from their geopolitical prisms. Lebanon’s Al-Nahar seesthis transformation as Iran’s entry into a new phase; on the other hand, Saudi Arabia’s Al-Watan does not expect any deviation in the conservative regime, despite a reformist resurgence (‘Iran Elections: World media cautiously optimistic’, BBC, 17 June 2013). According to Hillary and Flynt Leverett in ‘Rouhani won the election. Get over it’)Rouhani’s success reflects the reality of a stable and politically dynamic Iran, as opposed to the western perception that sees the victory as a result of Iran’s imploding economy and society(Al-jazeera, 16 June 2013).

The greatest blow has come from Israel, which has been at the receiving end of outgoing President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s strong rhetoric. It is also the country most vulnerable to and threatened by Iran’s on-going nuclear programme. Israel is certain that the presidential elections are quite insignificant when one looks at the bigger picture of foreign policy as the President is a pawn of the Supreme Leader, who dominates the country’s political scene (‘Analysis: Iran elections won’t impact nuclear policy’, The Jerusalem Post, 13 June 2013).

Further, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu has warned the world against being taken in by Iran’s election of a relatively moderate cleric. He continues to favour the sanctions on Iran and claims that the more severe the pressure on Iran, the greater there is a chance of putting an end to its nuclear programme (‘Netanyahu on Iran Elections: ‘let’s not delude ourselves’’, The Times of Israel, 16 June 2013). Israel has viewed the elections as a diabolical strategy wherein the international community might be tempted to loosen the sanctions under the misperception of a moderate Iran under Rouhani.

The world is uncertain about the future of Iran, but unlike the 2009 elections which were followed by massive protests, Rouhani’s victory has been celebrated by the people. This reflects not only that the elections were largely genuine, but can also be interpreted as vote for a more fruitful engagement with the west. Whether this is a victory of democracy or a result of biting sanctions, this is an outcome which the world should welcome.