Iran springs a promising surprise

Updated: 2013-06-20 08:34

By He Wenping (China Daily)

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The victory of moderate leader Hassan Rouhani in the June 15 presidential election in Iran - in which he routed hard-line conservatives by garnering more than 50 percent of the votes - reflects Iranian people's strong desire for change.

The United Nations and the world's major powers, including the United States and the European Union, have responded positively by congratulating Rouhani in the hope that the new Iranian government would cooperate with them on a range of issues, including the resumption of the stalled nuclear talks.

But one would be naive to expect post-Mahmoud Ahmedinejad Iran to take a U-turn in its foreign policy. We should not forget that Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say in the country's key policies, such as relations with major powers and the nuclear issue, with the president's role being reduced to that of the executor.

Khamenei may have loosened his control over some economic and social spheres in recent years, but he has maintained his firm hold over foreign and military policies, which involve national security. Khamenei is one of the most experienced leaders in the Middle East, and his absolute authority in Iran is beyond challenge. Not even the most powerful group in the country can challenge his authority. That a number of candidates in last week's presidential election were Khamenei loyalists is a case in point.

But that none of the candidates Khamenei endorsed won the presidential election indirectly illustrates that despite being the most powerful leader, he cannot have his way in all major matters.

Rouhani may cash in on his high popularity and the favorable international response he has got to establish his position. He is also likely to fine-tune Iran's set policies such as its firm stance on peaceful use of nuclear energy. But for now he has ruled out abandoning his country's uranium enrichment program.

The president-elect has to immediately work out measures to promote domestic economic growth in order to meet the Iranian people's desire for change and to improve their living standards. The Iranian economy has been hit by one Western sanction after another. As a result, its oil revenues are declining, prices of imported goods are soaring and its currency is depreciating. Besides, Iran's inflation is as high as 40 percent and its unemployment rate over 20 percent.

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