Hassan Rouhani, 64, will take office as President of Iran on August 3 with the endorsement of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who Saturday congratulated him as the
winner of Friday’s election by 50.7 percent in the first round of voting. Rouhani garnered 18 million ballots out of the 72 percent turnout of 50 million eligible voters, with the help of “reformist’ sympathizers and minority communities. With the news,
spontaneous celebrations spread across Iran. The president-elect told the people that his success was “a victory of moderation over extremism.”
DEBKAfile attributes Rouhani’s upset victory to an unprecedented combination of circumstances:
1. The hard-line camp couldn’t get its act together. Khamenei failed to persuade the Revolutionary Guards (Pasdaran) chiefs to withdraw their candidate, Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf’s, in favor of his favorite, National Security Adviser, Saeed Jalili. So the ayatollah turned to Rouhani.
Although a solid member of the Islamic Revolutionary establishment, Rouhani looked capable of inspiring hope in the Iranian people, and using his mild personality to persuade the international community to relax some of the sanctions strangling the Iranian economy over Iran’s nuclear program.
2. Outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmaninejad took his revenge on the extremists who had ostracized him for nearly four years. Familiar as no one else with the tricks used by the regime to rig elections, he stood watch to make sure that this vote was clean.
3. Khamenei and the clerics devoted enormous efforts to blocking the candidacy of Ahmadinejad’s crony, Esfandyar Rahim Mashee, and pragmatists like former president Hashemi Rafsanjani. They were so wrapped up in their factional struggles that they failed to notice Rouhani, the only clerical candidate, creeping up behind them. He stole the hearts of the Iranian street by promises they were longing to hear, to free political prisoners, guarantee civil rights, return “dignity to the nation,” address the dire state of the economy and embark on “constructive interaction with the world.”
The infighting between Khamenei’s henchmen and the Guards was still going on early Saturday morning. Rouhani, concerned about a plot to falsify the election, turned up at the Interior Ministry and demanded an early tally of ballots and publication of first partial results.
They were accordingly released at 6.45 a.m. local time, less than seven hours after the last polls closed – but only after the Guards general Mohammad Reza Naqi was told to leave the building.
4. Khamenei tends to alternate hard-line presidents with less pugnacious successors, say DEBKAfile’s Iranian sources. Rouhani is generally portrayed hopefully by Western and Israeli media as a moderate. But when the supreme leader struck a quiet deal with him as successor to Ahmadinejad, he knew his record as a loyal product of Iran’s clerical elite who, a decade ago, served as Iran’s National Security Adviser, and is at one with the Islamic Republic’s missions and goals.
At the same time, his style is conciliatory and sublte and he has gone out of his way to save Iran from confrontation with bigger and stronger opponents. For instance, as Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator between 2003 and 2005, Rouani ordered the temporary suspension of uranium enrichment activities when the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 so as not to give the Americans a pretext for attacking Iran as well.
A readiness for a more flexible approach to Iran’s nuclear controversy with the West was hinted at by the supreme leader. In his message of congratulation to the new president Saturday night, Khamenei wrote: “I urge everyone to help the president-elect and his colleagues in the government, as he is the president of the whole nation.”
Rouhani’s first task will be to draft a detailed plan marking out the boundaries of Iranian concessions for obtaining the partial lifting of sanctions to restore the flow of frozen oil revenues to the country’s empty coffers.
This will entail the new president going head on head against the Revolutionary Guards on two scores. He must fight the powerful corps first over their refusal to consider nuclear concessions and, second, to start breaking up the Pasdaran’s vast monopolistic empire which, no less than international sanctions, stifles the country’s economic life.
The Guards are already spoiling for this fight and may not wait for the new president to take office in August. Saturday night, shortly after Rouhani was proclaimed victor, rumors were flying around Tehran of a Revolutionary Guards military coup conspiracy to prevent him from taking office. Gen. Reza Naqi, who tried to interfere in the counting of ballots, was heard commenting two days before the vote: “Never mind who is elected, or how, we consider it our duty to get rid of any undesirable president.”
President-elect Rouhani would do well to heed this remark.
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