February 29, 2016

Quick Thoughts on the Iranian Elections

A few quick thoughts on the initial results in the Iranian elections

· The stunning setback of the hardliners in the elections is precisely why they opposed the Iran nuclear deal. They knew that if successful, the Rouhani faction would benefit electorally from the significant achievement of resolving the nuclear issue and reducing tensions with United States. These benefits would not just be limited to the parliamentary elections, but could establish a new balance of power in Iran’s internal politics with significant long-term repercussions.

· Incidentally, the motivations of many Republican lawmakers in Congress was not too different in their opposition to the Iran deal. The desire to deprive President Obama of any foreign policy success arguably played a bigger role for many lawmakers than the specifics of the nuclear deal itself.

· The election results are also a vindication of the Obama administration’s outreach and negotiations with Iran. For decades, moderates in Iran could not demonstrate the benefits of their moderate policies because of an unwillingness in Washington to play ball and negotiate directly with Tehran. Even when Washington temporarily did so, as in the fruitful collaboration between Iran and the United States in Afghanistan in 2001, American hardliners quickly shifted back to a policy of hostility. Iranian moderation was rewarded with an inclusion in the Axis of Evil under President Bush. Under President Obama, Iranian moderation resulted in the lifting of sanctions. A few weeks later, the moderates scored a stunning elections result.

· While initial results show that hardliners suffered significant setbacks, they have not been completely defeated and they are still an important power block in Iranian politics. But the balance of power has shifted. And further engagement and collaboration is likely to produce additional shifts, granted that it doesn’t happen to fast. In order to avoid a hardline backlash, the moderation of Iranian policies need to happen at a moderate pace.

· While a more corporative parliament will help Rouhani in many areas, including commerce and economic policies, it is important to recognize that the populations’ expectations on improvements in Iran’s internal atmosphere and the civil right situation is growing. Rouhani’s victory means that it is increasingly difficult for him to argue that he cannot address the internal human rights situation. 

· Finally, the many people in Washington who have consistently argued that elections in Iran do not matter and that change cannot come from within, have once again been proven embarrassingly wrong. But they didn’t misread the many flaws in the Iranian political system. Those flaws are there. They committed a much bigger mistake. They misread the strength of the Iranian society and the sophistication of the Iranian electorate, who once again have shown that they have the maturity and wisdom to change their society peacefully from within, without any support or interference from the outside.

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

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