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HomeOpinion​Winds of change: On the Iran election result

​Winds of change: On the Iran election result

The victory of Masoud Pezeshkian, a reformist who opposes moral policing of women and calls for engagement rather than confrontation with the West, in Iran’s presidential run-off, shows that the Islamic Republic, plagued by economic woes and social tensions, is still capable of springing a surprise. Until a few months ago, Iran’s executive, legislature and judiciary were controlled by the so-called ‘principalists’ (conservatives), who were opposed to reforms. The last few years also saw protests and state repression. The revolution seemed to be ageing. Yet, the Islamic Republic has elected a candidate who calls for change, in a poll that was necessitated by the death of Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative, in a helicopter crash in May. Mr. Pezeshkian, whose only administrative experience was a cabinet berth in the Khatami government over two decades ago, was a relatively obscure figure until last month. When his candidacy was cleared by the Guardian Council, Iran’s reformist coalition, which had been weakened after back-to-back electoral setbacks, threw its weight behind him. Mr. Khatami, and Hassan Rouhani, moderate cleric and President from 2013-21, endorsed him. In the July 5 run-off, he won 53.6% votes to beat conservative rival Saeed Jalili.

In recent years, a growing number of Iran’s voters have stayed away from elections as a protest against the system. In the first round of the presidential election, the 39.9% turnout fuelled debates about the legitimacy crisis of the semi-representative system. But the possibility of a reformist victory brought more voters in the run-off. The nearly 50% turnout helped Mr. Pezeshkian defeat Mr. Jalili despite a conservative consolidation behind him. This also means that the voters have high hopes about Mr. Pezeshkian, who in the past has spoken out against the way protests were handled by security personnel. He also backs dialogue with the West to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, which was sabotaged by Washington in 2018. It is to be seen how far he can go in a system tightly controlled by the Shia clergy. Iran’s President, the highest elected official, has limited powers in the country’s theocracy which is commanded by the Supreme Leader. But with his strong mandate, Mr. Pezeshkian should not shy away from pushing for change. The clerical establishment should see his victory as a message from the public. This is an opportunity to promote gradual reforms at home and careful engagement with the world. If Mr. Pezeshkian and the clergy reach common ground, Iran has a chance to ride out the storms engulfing it.

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