This year’s presidential elections in Iran will represent a major break with the electoral pattern of the past two decades in the country. Given the importance of Tehran on the global geopolitical scene, this change will have a considerable impact on international politics.
With the exception of the first post-revolutionary elections in 1979, presidential elections from the mid-1990s presented at least two viable candidates – one from the conservative camp and the other from the reformist camp – albeit within the limits ideological republic.
Not this time. Barring an unlikely outcome, the head of the judiciary and ultra-conservative Ebrahim Raisi is expected to be elected president, bringing down the regime’s last reformist pillar, represented by current president Hasan Rowhani.
The reasons for this closure of the almost undemocratic Iranian regime are multiple, highlighting the poor results of the reformist camp’s project to normalize Tehran’s international relations with the West. In the eyes of conservative sectors, this project would have put the regime in danger.
Rowhani was elected in 2013 with a promise to overcome the severe economic crisis through dialogue with the United States and Europe, agreeing to implement restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for ending the sanctions imposed by Washington , the European Union and the United Nations. .
In the short term, the strategy worked: the 2015 nuclear deal resulted in the lifting of several sanctions, the reopening of international financial and goods and services markets for Tehran. In the first year of the deal, in 2016, the economy grew by more than 13% and inflation fell to its lowest level in 25 years.
Soon, however, the winds changed. To the delight of Israel and Saudi Arabia, Iran’s two main regional opponents and main opponents of the deal, the election of Donald Trump in 2016 ended the brief detente between the Iran and the United States.
With this, Washington’s unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal in 2018, accompanied by the reimposition of economic sanctions and the establishment of a strategy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran, has blocked the reformist camp.
To make matters worse, the assassination of General Qassim Suleimani by the Americans in January 2020, coupled with Trump’s diplomatic effort to normalize Israel’s diplomatic relations with its Arab neighbors, reinforced the impression of Iranian conservatives that Washington used the opening of Tehran as an opportunity to destroy the Islamic republic, just as they would have done with Muammar Gaddafi after Libya agreed to sign disarmament agreements.
In this sense, the decision of the Guardian Council not to take risks in these elections, virtually guaranteeing the victory of an ultra-conservative, sends a clear message to the Biden administration: even with the extremely serious economic crisis in the country. , amplified by the effects of the pandemic, there will be no return to the bargaining spirit of the Rowhani years.
This does not mean that Tehran will necessarily break off the ongoing negotiations on resuming the nuclear deal. It is in the interests of the conservative elite that the sanctions be lifted, mainly due to growing popular discontent fueled by the economic recession, which could serve as a driving force to destabilize the regime.
But this will not come at the expense of national security. If the Americans and Europeans hoped that it would be possible to broaden the basket of negotiations, encompassing other pillars of Iran’s defense strategy, such as the ballistic missile program and assistance to Islamic militias in the region, this possibility arises. closes with Raisi in the chair. .
There is therefore a serious risk that the negotiations will get bogged down, with the continuation of sanctions and the serious crisis in the economy. In this scenario, aside from a popular uprising similar to the bloody wave of 2019, the tendency is to see Tehran increasingly use the Chinese map, already widely used since 2018. And, with that, another coin on the plateau of the Cold War of the 21st Century.