The landslide victory of Ebrahim Raisi, facilitated by inept US policy and international sanctions, spells an end to eight years of reformism, writes Susan Ram
There was never any doubt about who would emerge victorious from Iran’s presidential elections, held on June 18. As widely predicted, Ebrahim Raisi, the conservative head of Iran’s judiciary, won the race by multiple lengths, securing 17.9 million votes (62 per cent of the ballots cast).
Raisi’s nearest contender, Mohsen Rezaei (a senior conservative general) could garner only 3.4 million ballots, while Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former central bank governor and the sole reformist candidate, lumbered in third with just 2.4 million.
This outcome will be music to the ears of the hardline theocrats who have ruled over Iran since the Revolution of 1979. With Raisi in the presidency, they now control all branches of the state for the first time in almost a decade. This election victory marks the end of the ‘reformism’ associated with the eight-year presidency of Hassan Rouhani – and a brutal rupture with the optimism that surrounded his second-term victory (over Raisi) in 2017.
Boycotted election; crippled economy
That said, difficult days lie ahead for the novice president and his backers. Firstly, there’s the fact that Iranians in their millions boycotted the election, either by staying at home (turn-out was just 48.8 per cent) or by spoiling their ballots: at 3.7 million, spoiled votes in effect took second place, ahead of Raisi’s closest rival.
Profound disillusionment, and a sense that the result was pre-determined, help explain this mass stay-away. For millions of Iranians desperate for reform, participation was ruled out by the regime’s decision to ban leading reformist candidates from running in the weeks prior to the poll.
Lacking anything resembling a credible popular mandate, Raisi must now confront the challenges posed by a crippled economy whose devastating impact on people’s lives has been further exacerbated by the Covid pandemic.
Inflation is running at close to 50 per cent and the government is predicted to face a huge budget deficit this year. Prospects for recovery appear stymied by the long-term impact of covid-19, with 3 million cases and a death toll of 83,000 recorded in the country thus far.
US policy and the stranglehold of sanctions
For Iran, nothing looms larger than the issue of international sanctions, applied (under US tutelage) almost without break since 2007.
Graphs provide a useful way of gauging the calamitous impact of sanctions on Iran’s economy and the well-being of its people.
A brief respite for Iranians followed the 2015 nuclear deal (former president Rouhani’s biggest achievement), under which Iran agreed to limit its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief. In 2016, Iran’s economy bounced back, with GDP growing at 12.3 per cent and expansion particularly vigorous within Iran’s giant oil and gas industry.
Then, in 2018, came Donald Trump’s decision to unilaterally withdraw the US from the nuclear accord with Iran and re-instate sanctions. This masterful stroke had immediate results: it choked Iran’s oil sales, sent its economy into a tailspin, and emboldened Iran’s hardliners, who could now point accusing fingers at Rouhani’s government and its readiness to trust the US.
As Hamed Mousavi, political science professor at Tehran University notes:
“It’s debatable whether this was intentional or whether this was an unintended consequence but nevertheless throughout Iranian history, whenever there is US pressure, it always benefits the conservatives and it always turns into losses for reformist factions.”
This latest turn, then, cannot be understood without looking at the long, dark shadow of imperialism which has shaped developments in Iran for so much of its history. In a real sense, the rise of Raisi (and concomitant crushing of reform) in Iran represents imperialist meddling at its most cack-handed.
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Susan Ram is a writer, editor and journalist based in south-west France. She's currently at work on a book about the French Left, for publication in India, where she lived for many years.
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