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  • Iran's presidential election passes off peacefully
  • Will Iran's new President be a unifying force in the country?
  • The duality of the politician-reformer role in Iran
  • The Arab state's complex relations with the West
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New president
Iran has a new president M. Pezeshkian. ELTA

Iran's presidential election passes off peacefully

Early presidential elections in Iran were held following the death of the previous leader, Ebrahim Raisi. He was killed in May in a helicopter crash in Iran's East Azerbaijan province. Seven others were on board the aircraft, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, the Imam of Tabriz for Friday prayers, Mohammad Ali Al-e-Hashem, and Malek Rahmati, President of East Azerbaijan. All were killed.

In the first round at the end of June, none of the candidates managed to break the 50% barrier needed to win the election, so a second round was scheduled for the first time since 2005.

This year, 61 million Iranians, including the 10 million who live abroad, were eligible to vote in Iran's presidential elections. More than 30 million people went to the polls, according to Mehr news agency. Mehr notes that the voting lasted six hours longer than the 10 hours provided for in the Iranian constitution[1].

The new President's inauguration is expected to occur within a week.

Will Iran's new President be a unifying force in the country?

Massoud Pezeshkian is 69 years old. He was born on 29 September 1954. He grew up in Mahabad (north-western Iran, West Azerbaijan Province) with an Azerbaijani father and a Kurdish mother.

"The Associated Press (AP) reports that Iran's President-elect speaks Azeri and has a long history of dealing with Iran's ethnic minorities. Pezeshkian's supporters point to his Azerbaijani origin as one of the reasons why he could be the initiator of a "unifying force" in the country.

During the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988), Pezeshkian served as a military doctor and took care of sending medical teams to the front. He later became a cardiac surgeon and, since 1994, head of Tabriz University of Medical Sciences.

As the country's Deputy Minister of Health, Mr Peseskian entered politics in the early 2000s. From 2001 to 2005, he served as head of the Ministry of Health under President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005).

In 2006, Pezeshkian was elected as a legislator representing the city of Tabriz. He subsequently took up the post of Speaker of Parliament, where he pursued reformist and moderate ideas. The AP notes that analysts have often described him as an independent politician rather than an ally of electoral blocs. During the election campaign, Pezeshkian also enjoyed the status of an independent figure, the agency writes.

Pezeshkian has been a member of the Iranian Parliament since 2008. He served as First Deputy Speaker from 2016 to 2020.

In 2013, Pezeshkian registered to run for the presidency but eventually withdrew his candidacy. In 2021, the authorities banned him and other prominent candidates from running in the elections, which helped the previous Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi to win easily, AP recalls[2].

The duality of the politician-reformer role in Iran

According to CNN, Pezeshkian's popularity has grown since he spoke out against the violence surrounding the death of Mahsa Amini. The girl died in 2022 after being arrested for allegedly breaking a law restricting the wearing of women's clothing. Amini's death sparked months of protests across Iran. According to the UN, hundreds of people have been killed and thousands arrested as the authorities have tried to quell these protests.

During the 2022 protests, Pezeshkian said in an interview with the Iranian TV channel IRINN that what happened was "our fault because we want to instill religious faith by force." According to the politician, this is impossible.

Pezeshkian also pointed out that in the Islamic Republic, it is unacceptable to arrest a girl for wearing her hijab and then hand over her lifeless body to her family. At the same time, protests broke out across the country a few days later, and the politician warned that those who insulted the Supreme Leader would only succeed in creating anger and hatred in society[3].

According to the AP, this position reflects the ambivalence of the reformist politician's role in Iran's theocracy: he demonstrates a desire for change but never radically challenges the system controlled by the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

The Iranian President is the second person in the state, and the strategy of the state is determined by the Supreme Leader. Under Iran's dual system of government - clerical and republican - the President cannot achieve major policy changes with regard to Iran's nuclear program or support for militant groups in the Middle East because the Supreme Leader makes all the decisions on the most important governmental issues. However, the President can influence the tone of Iranian politics. In particular, he will be directly involved in the selection of Mr Khomeini's successor, who is now 85 years old.

After the first round of the presidential elections, Pezeshkian assured that the government would respect the hijab law.

"But there should never be any intrusive or inhuman treatment of women", he added.

Asked about students imprisoned on charges of involvement in the 2022-2023 riots, the politician said: "Political prisoners are not in my power and if I want to do something, I don't have the power".

He also assured that he would do everything possible to draw attention to those whose voices are not heard.

"We will make sure that poverty, discrimination, war, lies and corruption disappear from this country", he promised at a campaign rally.

The Arab state's complex relations with the West

Pezeshkian promised to end Iran's isolation from the rest of the world and to ease tensions over the stalled negotiations with the West on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal, in which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in return for an easing of Western sanctions.

"We are all people of this country, and we must use all our strengths for the country's progress," AFP quoted him as saying.

According to experts interviewed by CNN, a more moderate politician in the president's chair could contribute to opening a dialogue between Tehran and the West[4].

IInside Iran, Pezeshkian can deliver some of the social transformations he announced during his election campaign. But Iran's new president has offered no guarantees that he will be able to implement these initiatives, said Sanam Vakil, director of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, a London-based agency.

"But it may add a little more room for manoeuvre in the area of social freedoms," the expert believes.