Analysis & Opinions - The Washington Post

In Iran’s elections, the hard-liners lost. What comes next?

| May 26, 2017

More than 40 million Iranians voted last Friday in a presidential election to choose their country’s future path: between one of engagement and diplomacy with the West and one based on a self-reliant economic populism. With a 73 percent turnout, Iranians overwhelmingly chosemoderate incumbent Hassan Rouhani in what was a clear defeat for the main conservative challenger, Ebrahim Raisi, and a major setback for the conservative camp.

The uncertainty and high stakes involved in the election yet again confirms the importance of genuine electoral competition within the bounds of the Iranian political system and the serious role given to popular input and participation — as opposed to other Muslim states in the Middle East.

Scorched-earth campaign

This year’s campaign was particularly harsh as Iran’s conservatives undertook a high-powered offensive against Rouhani — far beyond their regular campaigning tactics. The degree of mobilization, campaigning, investment and consensus-building within the conservative camp was unprecedented in the last two decades — as were the serious charges against Rouhani that dragged the president and his entire administration through the mud with embarrassing corruption allegations.

These attacks pushed Rouhani headfirst into the reformist camp as he aggressively attacked the state in a bid to attract voters and gain popularity through anti-establishment rhetoric. While Rouhani had relied on the reformists since his 2013 election, he adopted their rhetoric in the final stretch of the campaign in a degree above and beyond his prior bounds.

Why would the conservatives mount such an extensive scorched-earth campaign against a strong incumbent president who lifted sanctions with the nuclear deal when there was such a high risk of loss and defeat? Was this a strategic mistake tarnishing both the conservatives’ and Raisi’s credibility? The answer lies beyond this particular election and in the larger war over the future of the supreme leadership after Ayatollah Khomeini.

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For Academic Citation: Mohseni, Payam.“In Iran’s elections, the hard-liners lost. What comes next?.” The Washington Post, May 26, 2017.