Moderate Iran triumphs

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Moderate Iran triumphs

Hassan Rouhani must push ahead with his liberal reforms and sideline hardliners

With more than 57 per cent of the Iranian voters endorsing another term for the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, the electorate's message could not have been more emphatic: The people of Iran want greater integration of their nation with the world, especially the West, which Rouhani has promised on terms fair to Iran; they seek increasingly high levels of internal democracy, which Rouhani has worked to achieve and assured to scale up; and they desire economic reforms which the incumbent President is placed to effect. The last two of these are significantly dependent on the first, and to that extent the victorious President's remark that “Iran choses the path of interaction with the world, away from violence…” can be safely interpreted as an expression of his determination to push ahead with his global agenda of enhanced positive involvement. By re-electing Rouhani for another term, the people of Iran have also given the nod to the civil nuclear programme deal he had crafted with the US-led West, following which the West initiated the lifting of several economic and other sanctions it had imposed on Iran. His win secures the pact against falling apart — as it may have, had a hardliner displaced Rouhani. But this is the least of the success; now he must push ahead to ensure that the agreement sustains and is not harmed by the efforts of those from within who will be smarting from the defeat. Here, President Rouhani will need the West's support too; it must not constantly keep questioning Iran's commitment and threatening it with punitive action in case it falters in delivering. This is especially  true of the Trump Administration, and US President Donald Trump who has all along been sceptical of the deal which was stitched by his predecessor Barack Obama. In his presidential campaign, Trump had termed the agreement as “one of the worst deals ever signed”. Now is the time for the rest of the world to strengthen Rouhani's hands, also because pushing him to a corner will allow hardline elements within Iran to take the initiative. As it is, he has a difficult task ahead. Despite the win, he faces challenges at home. He has to rein in his radical opponents who have the backing of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Hosseini Khamenei; Rouhani trounced his rival Ebrahim Raisi, seen as the Ayatollah's candidate. Besides, President Rouhani remains fettered by a system where the Supreme Leader has absolute powers over the defence forces of the country.

India has every reason to feel cheerful with President Rouhani's re-election. While it is often said that India and Iran share deep cultural links and have been partners for decades, on many occasions New Delhi felt let down. During the 1971 war, for instance, the monarchy then in power had virtually sided with Pakistan. Thereafter too, Iran had been less than emphatic in its support to the Indian cause vis-à-vis Pakistan at international forms. But over the years, things have changed and Iran is now closer to India than ever before — the collaboration in the development of the Chabahar port is one major example. India and Iran are also working closely on anti-terrorism measures.

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