Hassan Rouhani Wins Second Term as Iran’s President

Iran (SCF) – President Hassan Rouhani, 68, won a landslide victory in the presidential election on May 19. More than 40 million Iranians voted on that day. That puts turnout above 70 percent.

The president is the second-most powerful figure within Iran’s political system that oversees a vast state bureaucracy employing more than 2 million people. He is charged with naming Cabinet members and other officials to key posts and plays a significant role in shaping both domestic and foreign policy. The president has important sway over domestic affairs and serves as the face of Iran to the world but is subordinate to the supreme leader chosen by a clerical panel. As supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei remains the ultimate arbiter in the political system, and approves any significant decisions and changes sought by the executive power.

Rouhani has been a stalwart of the Islamic Republic since the Shah regime was overthrown. He has held a number of top positions in the armed forces and was deputy war commander during the eight-year Iran-Iraq conflict, and was secretary of the Supreme National Security Council for 16 years.

The May 19 vote was largely a referendum on the president’s relatively moderate policies, which paved the way for the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that won Iran relief from some sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. Rouhani will now have a bigger mandate to push through his reforms, to put an end to extremism, to build bridges with the outside world, and to get the economy back on track. He campaigned on the promise of a more open, prosperous and internationally integrated economic model, openly criticizing hardliners and Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard – the message supported Iran’s young and increasingly urban population.

The second term to-do list includes fixing the banking system crippled by bad property loans, expanding the private sector and formalizing human rights and freedom of information.

The Russian-Iranian relationship has been flourishing since President Rouhani was elected in 2013. Moscow and Tehran managed to expand military cooperation and agreed on further development of the North–South Transport Corridor (NSTC). Diplomatic exchanges between Russia and Iran have been steadily on the rise. Tehran and Moscow were instrumental in the creation of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), which now boasts a status similar to that of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries as it tries to coordinate efforts between gas-producing states.

At the international level, Iran and Russia have similar views on many important issues. They have common geopolitical interests, both in the Middle East and in the Russian Commonwealth (CIS). Tehran is interested in regional security in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

Iran and Russia are strategic allies and form an axis in the Caucasus alongside Armenia. Western economic sanctions on Iran have made Russia Iran’s key trading partner, especially in regard to the former’s excess oil reserves. Militarily, Iran is the only country in Western Asia that has been invited to join the Collective Security Treaty Organization. Moscow is promoting Iran’s full membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Iran currently remains a key partner of the Eurasian Economic Union – the organization it has expressed willingness to join and has a free trade agreement with.

President Rouhani’s visit to Russia in late March was a memorable high-profile event during which he and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed numerous issues, ranging from international conflicts to culture. The leaders signed 16 cooperation agreements and declared an unprecedented increase in bilateral trade as the pivotal indicator of their successful relations. «We are moving to strategic relations», Rouhani said about the results of the visit when the two leaders met for the eighth time in four years.

The Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea is almost ready, and the absolute majority of provisions have been agreed upon. The document of fundamental importance is going to be signed later this year.

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By Erfan Kouchari – CC BY 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Since Russia’s military operation in Syria started in September 2015, both countries have worked as a military coalition, sharing the management of the fighting on the ground. According to the Astana accords, Iran, alongside Turkey and with Russian leadership, is a guarantor of the ceasefire. It explains why Russia sees Iran as an important component in any future settlement in the war-torn country.

On May 4, Russia and Iran signed a memorandum on the plan to create safe zones in Syria aimed at bolstering the fragile truce. The move has ushered in a new and more solid phase of the Iran-Russia partnership with the two countries joining efforts to devise a road map for their future steps in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin is planning to visit Iran soon.

No doubt, the victory of Hassan Rouhani in the election will spur further development of the bilateral ties. After the results of the election became known, the Russian president sent a telegram to the president-elect to congratulate him on the victory. The message expressed confidence in further progress in developing the mutually beneficial relationship.

This report prepared by Peter Korzun for Strategic Culture Foundation