In Iran, the election campaign is underway for the presidential elections of May 19. The electoral committee announced the list of eligible candidates, which does not feature the formal radical president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad. As usual, elections in Iran mark a phase of relative openness in domestic politics. However, the backtracking of the United States, which has promised a review of the nuclear deal reached with Tehran in July 2015, weighs heavily on the election campaign. President Donald Trump’s announcement came following Iran’s inclusion on the list of six countries for which the issuance of visas for the United States has been temporarily suspended.
The US threat to the nuclear deal
US President Donald Trump has called for a review of the nuclear deal with Iran. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson revealed the intention in a letter to the Congress, which mentions the decision to revise the support to the Vienna agreement, ensured by the Obama administration. Tillerson acknowledged that Iran has fulfilled the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and of the six negotiating countries (Russia, United States, France, Great Britain, Germany and China). However, he reiterated the accusations made by Republicans of Iran’s alleged support of terrorist groups. President Trump had defined the Vienna agreement as the “worst deal ever”.
In January 2016, the international sanctions against the country had to be lifted in accordance with the agreement. However, the United States decided not to unfreeze billions of Iranian dollars held in U.S. banks. Tillerson added that Donald Trump has asked the U.S. National Security Council to assess whether or not compliance with the Vienna agreement was in the interests of U.S. national security. By December 2, 2016, the U.S. authorities had decided to extend the sanctions against Iran and Libya (Iran and Libya Sanction Act) for another ten years, although the Vienna Agreement provides for a gradual end to the sanctions against Iran. The country is still a determining factor in solving the main regional conflicts, from Syria to Iraq and Afghanistan.
The presidential candidates
The new course of US foreign policy may have an impact on the Iranian presidential elections of May 19, 2017. However, for the time being, it is not benefiting the ultra-conservative front. The candidacy of former President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has in fact been rejected by the Guardian Council, which is in charge of approving the candidates for the presidential elections in advance. This decision is expected to pave the way for a re-election of the president in office, Hassan Rouhani. If the moderate vote is not confirmed, it would be the first time in post-revolutionary history that a president is not re-elected for the second term. The moderate front faced the vote in the absence of its historic leader, technocrat Hashemi Rafsanjani, who died following a heart attack in January 2017. Yet Rouhani could find a worthy rival in the mayor of Teheran and former leader of the pasdaran, Mohammed Qhalibaf, or in the leader of the Al-Quds Foundation, Rezavi, Enrahim Raisi.
Rouhani’s presidency, in addition to having reached the nuclear deal goal, also achieved positive results in economic policy. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) called Iran’s 2016 economic recovery “impressive”. Iran has doubled its oil output, going back to producing approximately 3.9 million barrels per day, a level similar to that of the pre-sanctions period. This has contributed to reaching an agreement with Saudi Arabia for reducing OPEC’s oil production. Subsequently, foreign investments in the country increased, especially those from Europe, by approximately $9.5 billion in 2016 alone. The recovery of foreign investments has resulted in an increased rate of growth, at around 7% in 2016, with the prospect of stabilizing at around 4.5% in the medium term. Finally, inflation rates in Iran dropped from 40% at the end of Ahmadinejad’s second term (2013) to 7.5% in March 2016. However, youth unemployment figures are still high, while the issue of reforming the subsidies system is still unresolved.
Iran is preparing for the presidential vote on May 19. The Trump administration has promised to review the nuclear deal and imminent decisions on extending the international sanctions against Iran. The new course in U.S. foreign policy does not seem to have strengthened the ultra-conservative front ahead of the vote. The exclusion of former president Mahmud Ahmadinejad could pave the way to confirming the moderate, Hassan Rouhani, who has taken major steps in economic policy, with the reduction in inflation rates and the increase in foreign investments. The climate of the election campaign will be decisive in ensuring political stability in the country and favoring a wider project of economic policy reforms, as promised by the moderates.