By Giancarlo Elia Valori*
The outgoing President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, won re-election in the first round by garnering over 56% of the vote. Rouhani won with 14,619,848 votes on a total number of voters equal to 25,966,729 accounting for 53,6% of total votes.
The difference between the two figures is related to the so-called panachage, namely voting for candidates from different parties instead of those from the set list of a party, and the votes cast for his regional lists.
However, the main loser is Ebrahim Raisi, an eminent cleric of the Shiite clergy.
In addition to Raisi, the other challengers – initially 1,636 candidates had decided to run for election, but they were soon reduced to six, after the vetting and approval of the Guardian Council – were Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the mayor of Tehran who dropped out of the race before the opening of the polling stations; the former Minister of Culture, Mostafa Agha Mirsalim; the former vice-President of the Republic, Mostafa Hashemitaba, and the current vice-President, Eshaq Jahangiri.
They are complex and, anyway, remarkable figures: besides being mayor of Tehran, Ghalibaf was Chief of Police from 2000 to 2005 and formerly Commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ Air Force from 1997 to 2000.
Qalibaf holds a Ph. D. in political geography and was also Managing-Director of Khatam al-Anbia, an engineering firm directly owned and controlled by the Pasdaran, namely the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
He had run also in the previous presidential elections, but his project – today as at that time – was to federate all conservative oppositions under his leadership and propose the creation of the Ministry for Foreign Trade.
Proposing a new Ministry to solve a problem is never the right solution.
Subjecting foreign policy to the economy is his most common trait, even in the propaganda of his group, namely the “Progress and Justice Population of Islamic Iran”.
Mostafa Mirsalim got only 1.17% of the votes.
He studied and had a long professional career as an engineer in France. He returned to Iran at the outbreak of Khomeini’s Islamic Revolution, thus becoming Chief of the National Police in 1979. He was proposed by the then President Banisadr as a candidate for Prime Minister as a compromise candidate acceptable to both Banisadr and the Majilis, namely the Parliament, dominated by the Islamic Republican Party.
A political story halfway between the pro-Western “Shiite Republic”, the offspring of Banisadr and the nationalistic-modernizing thrusts present in the 1979 revolution, and the identity-based and Shiite restoration – all the more so that Mirsalim was later adviser to Ali Khamenei for long time.
He served as Minister of Culture and Islamic Guide from 1994 to 1998. His tenure was characterized by a strongly conservative Islamist direction, aiming to stave off the “cultural onslaught of Western culture” in Iran. He was later appointed to the Expediency Discernment Council, a body set up to resolve differences or conflicts between the Council of Experts and the Parliament.
Besides being vice-President, Hashemitaba is Minister of Industries and Head of the Iranian Olympic Committee.
He is described as having “centrist” views – as we would say in the West – and he is co-founder of the “Executives of Construction Party”, a grouping linked to Rafsanjani.
During the election campaign Hashemitaba focused mainly on environmental protection and agricultural reform.
Jahangiri was the first vice-President of Rouhani’s government and also served as Minister of Industries and Mines between 1997 and 2005 under President Khatami. Formerly he had been Governor of Isfahan Province and a member of Parliament for two terms.
He graduated in physics and later also acquired a Ph. D. in Business Management.
Having garnered many reformist votes in the 2013 elections, he decided to run again for Presidency, in connection with the area close to Rafsanjani, Khatami and to the current winner of the election.
Raisi is a Shiite cleric, as well as custodian and Chairman of the Astan Quds Razavi foundation, the Bonyad or autonomous charitable foundation managing the Imam Reza shrine in Mashhad – a foundation worth 210 billion US dollars a year.
Raisi served in several positions in Iran’s judicial system and is also a member of the Assembly of Experts from South Khorasan Province.
He run for Presidency in the 2017 elections as leader of the “Popular Front of Islamic Revolution Forces”, a recent alliance founded in 2016 by twenty-five groups of the conservative spectrum.
Since 1979, however, all Iran’s Presidents have been re-elected and Rouhani can boast two clear successes: inflation, which has fallen from 40% to 10%, and the GDP growth, which is currently equal to + 4.6%.
For the re-elected President the current problematic issues are above all the P5 + 1 agreement, which has been implemented only partially and with the old sanctions still largely in place, as well as the new tension with President Trump, who aims at playing the Sunnis off against the Shiites for a possible new conflict marginalizing Iran. Finally another problematic issue is Iran’s strategic stability, with conflicts in Khuzestan and attacks on Pakistan’s border.
Hence the cards Raisi could play during the electoral campaign were precisely security, the Shiite national and religious unity, as well as the sense of defeat looming large on Iran considering the probable future failure of the P5 + 1 nuclear agreement.
Hence, in a country where the average age is 31 and over 50% the population was born after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, young voters have not chosen the identity-based, nationalistic and anti-Western platform of Raisi, a man of Khamenei and his likely successor as Supreme Leader.
At electoral level, the struggle was between the front supporting continuity of relations with the West and the front of close-mindedness, which is witnessing Trump’s new policy in the Middle East.
An old-fashioned policy aiming at confrontation with Iran managed by the Sunnis and Israel, with a likely “small war” between Israel and Hezbollah in the coming months and a major clash between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the coming years.
It is no coincidence that during the electoral campaign Raisi criticized the cutting down to size of the Iranian nuclear system and pointed an accusing finger at “Westerners’ untrustworthiness”.
As already said, however, Rouhani can boast his economic achievements: in addition to the data and statistics already reported, the “reformist” presidential system (indeed, we still use these silly definitions) has led economic growth to 12.5% and has reduced youth unemployment to 30%.
The outgoing President showed some signs of weakness last Sunday when the presidential car was stoned by angry miners due to an accident that had killed 42 of their workmates. However, one-third of the Iranian voters live in cities where Rouhani is still very popular and where the electoral turnover is 40%.
In smaller cities, where the Shiite clergy is still very powerful, the electoral turnover rises to 90% and tends to favour the religious and conservative right parties.
The Revolutionary Guards, which are partly a group of conscripts, have certainly favoured Raisi, but this does not necessarily mean that the policy line, based on anti-Western and revolutionary purity and opposed to the JCPOA nuclear agreement, is fully shared by the Pasdaran.
On their press they have already defined Raisi as “Ayatollah” and there are pictures of Iranian soldiers in Syria who praise the cleric of Mashhad. Meanwhile, however, Rouhani has included many members of the intelligence services in his staff and has “purged” many elements coming from the Pasdaran.
Khamenei has strongly favoured Raisi, also during the election campaign, but here the real issue is another: what is the electoral and economic value of the JCPOA and can it solve Iran’s productive and hence political crisis?
The Conservatives, who, in some of their regions – like it or not – have accepted the P5 + 1 and the JCPOA agreement are posing one single question: while it largely solves our economic problems, what is the cost of the lack of security resulting therefrom?
Moreover, if the agreement had no decisive impact on the Iranian economy, only the geopolitical and strategic damage to its security would remain.
Nevertheless, apart from the fact that paradoxically the Revolutionary Guards’ companies have much benefited from the JCPOA, the real problem is the natural and obvious low pace of its effects on the Iranian economy.
In the six months following the signature of the nuclear agreement, Iran regained access to 4.2 billion US dollars of frozen funds abroad and increased its exports by approximately 7 billion US dollars.
Again in the period following the JCPOA agreement, oil exports increased by 400,000 barrels/day, with 5 billion US dollars of revenue gains.
Moreover the government’s economic plan, voted early this year, envisages 30 billion new foreign investment, as well as other foreign direct investment and domestic investment, while it is worth noting that only 4 billion US dollars were available for investment at the time of sanctions.
It should also be recalled that Iran has acquired a 2.8% shareholding of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Banks, however, are the real weak point of Iran’s economic system.
The central bank’s scarce liquidity – for obvious anti-inflationary reasons – many non-performing loans, non-homogeneous banking practices, corruption and, in short, a banking system which remained isolated from the rest of the world for many years and currently has no longer the faintest idea of the extent to which finance and banking have changed.
Just think that in 2012 all the thirty Iranian banks were disconnected from SWIFT, and still today, after the partial lifting of sanctions, many Iranian credit institutions face difficulties in using the system of the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications.
Furthermore, for the sole purpose of upgrading the extractive industry, Iranian experts deem it necessary to invest over 100 billion US dollars.
Hence, if it goes on like this, amidst objective difficulties and the Saudi and Sunni rearmament, the Iranian population who, according to opinion polls, initially strongly supported the JCPOA (42.7%) will see its enthusiasm dampen, as is currently the case (22.3%).
27% of the Iranian population thinks that Rouhani’s bad management is one of the causes of the economic crisis, while 45% of the Iranian population blames the external conditions that are not under the new President’s direct control.
Furthermore, the increase in oil exports has been largely neutralised by the fall in the oil barrel price.
The non-oil Iranian product, however, will rise by less than 3% a year, while Rouhani’s primary goal is to cut inflation – hence he will not support the State’s deficit spending, which is largely direct or hidden welfare.
Hence, at mass level, the psychological and propaganda mechanism which has emerged in the presidential election is increasing pessimism about the JCPOA economic effects and the feeling of strategic weakness in the face of new threats to Iran’s security, over and above mistrust of the way in which the West seems to want to do everything to destabilize, marginalize and impoverish the Iranian people.
Rouhani has found the Iranian masses still relatively optimistic about economic growth and Iran’s opening to the rest of the world, but if this did not happen the Conservatives would regain power quickly.
The question is rhetorical: hence, what is in our interest, both in Italy and in Europe?
About the author:
*Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “La Centrale Finanziaria Generale Spa”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group and member of the Ayan-Holding Board. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title of “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France
This article was published by Modern Diplomacy