On June 15, 2013, Hassan Rouhani was elected as the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran with more than 50% of the vote. His closest rival, Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, attained six million votes, less than 16 percent in total.
The West has been relatively optimistic regarding the process and outcome of the election. In this election, 72% of eligible voters Iranian voters cast ballots. Commentators have also pointed out that President Rouhani is backed by the opposition and reformist political factions in Iran. This suggests that human rights conditions may improve.
In previous statements, the new President has indicated that “discrimination against women will not be tolerated” by his administration. During his campaign, he also recognized that, “Today we need a movement in the society to achieve developments. For that, we need to pay attention to women.” He plans to form a women’s affairs ministry to improve conditions during his presidency.
Despite this optimism, Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi, among other prominent voices, have pointed out that the Iranian election cannot be considered free or fair because of the inherently undemocratic nature of the process itself. Most significantly, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and the Guardian Council determine the list of presidential candidates that are allowed to run after a careful vetting process. In this election, despite 700 candidates having registered, only seven were approved. All candidates had close ties to the Guardian Council leaders.
Furthermore, the office of the presidency is severely restricted in their policy conduct. Rouhani’s government does not have formal control over foreign policy and the Ayatollahs will intervene on the President’s domestic terrain as they please. Other supposed “reformist” presidents, like Mohammed Khatami in 1997, failed to institute reform in past because of these limitations. As such, conditions for civil society and women are highly unlikely to improve significantly.
Dr. Ebadi suggests that we must pay attention to Rohani’s policies, both at home and abroad, to determine his commitments to change. Ebadi stated, “The people of Iran went to the polls and made their voices heard. However, it is still too early to judge the new president. I hope he can change Iran’s nuclear policy tied to sanctions and put an end to its support of Bashar al-Assad regime in Syria and let the Syrian people to determine their own future”.
Least worst candidates wins Iran’s election, Forbes, June 15, 2013.
Rouhani win’s Iran’s presidential election, Al Jazeera, June 15, 2013.
Iran’s election hints anew at the desire for change, Washington Post, June 17, 2013.
[Video] Shirin Ebadi on the 2013 Iranian Election, Nobel Women’s Initiative.