Iranian President Hassan Rouhani may not have fully delivered on his promise of a stronger economy and improved international ties, but a Deakin University Middle East expert expects he will be returned for a second term at this week’s election.
Professor Shahram Akbarzadeh researches Middle East and Central Asian politics with Deakin’s Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation. He believes that despite the slow pace of economic recovery, President Rouhani is still more popular than his opponents.
“A ravaged Middle East and precarious nuclear deal sit as the backdrop for this week’s election,” Professor Akbarzadeh said.
“While President Rouhani’s re-election is not guaranteed, there is sufficient support behind him and disarray in the opposition camps to warrant optimism about his chances. A two-term presidency is the norm in Iran, and it is safe to assume that Rouhani will get his second chance.
“He continues to have the approval of the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who knows the damage that the previous Ahmadinejad’s presidency inflicted on Iran’s economy and is not likely to want a return to the isolationist policies advocated by the conservatives.
“President Rouhani’s re-election would give him the chance to follow through his agenda of re-integrating Iran in the global economy which offers opportunities for Australia, especially in the higher education sector.”
Professor Akbarzadeh said President Rouhani’s ambitious agenda to rejuvenate Iran’s economy by lifting international sanctions linked to the nuclear program had not been as successful as promised.
“The benefits that should have flowed from the removal of UN Security Council sanctions that crippled the Iranian economy in return for giving up its stockpile of enriched uranium and putting its nuclear facilities under strict international inspection have been undermined by the United States’ sanctions in response to the ballistic test carried out by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” he said.
“While European states have not followed the US lead, it has had a major impact on the financial sector.
“Major international banks continue to stay clear of Iran, in part due to fear of being penalised by the US. This is a major barrier in Iran’s ability to develop economic ties and attract international investments in its depleted infrastructure.”
The Rouhani government has had some economic success. Through revenue increases from oil and gas export, it has been able to reduce inflation to single digits.
“However the benefits have not trickled down to ordinary citizens,” Professor Akbarzadeh said.
“Unemployment and housing affordability are still major issues, particularly with Iranian youth. Official data shows that unemployment is at a three-year high, at 12.7 per cent in 2016.”
The slow pace of Iran’s economic recovery is the main focus of President Rouhani’s two main rivals – Ebrahim Raisi and Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf. Both are members of the Popular Front of Islamic Revolutions Forces, a conservative coalition formed in 2016 to consolidate the fracture conservative vote that allowed President Rouhani to win by a slim majority vote of 51 per cent.
“So far the conservative camp has not put forward an economic plan and they are trying to compensate with grandiose sloganeering and outlandish promises of jobs and cash handouts,” Professor Akbarzadeh.
“They accuse President Rouhani of compromising too much with Western powers to no benefit and make a virtue of Iran’s economic isolation, celebrating the ‘resistance economy’ and proclaiming pseudo-egalitarian slogans.
“With no indication that the top two candidates will step aside in favour of the other, there will inevitably be a split in the conservative vote. This can only bode well for President Rouhani’s bid for a second term.”
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