Iranian New President: a heart surgeon who gauges nation's pulse - well!


New Iranian president

Iranians elected a new president on Friday in a run-off election, who has pledged to take the country out of international isolation while promising women more rights that include relaxing the strict dress code - the compulsory hijab-wearing in public.

Dr Masoud Pezeshkian, the president elect, aged 69, is a former heart surgeon, who had been a minister of health before, in a reformist government from 2001 to 2005.

In the first round of the presidential election that was held on June 28 due to the unexpected death of the former president, Ibrahim Raisi, in a helicopter crash, Dr Pezeshkian marginally won the race while beating Saeed Jalili, his nearest rival and a conservative hardliner, who promised to uphold the status quo. 

During the heated political debates in the runup to the election, Dr Pezeshkian criticised Iran's confrontational dealings with the West that resulted in hyperinflation and an economy in ruins; he accused the previous hard-line-regimes of leaving Iran in a cage of isolation.

Mr Jalili disagreed with that notion, though; he said it was not a cage, but a sanctuary!

The turnout in the first round, however, was just 39% - a historic low that reflected the frustration and lack of trust in the electoral process in brining about a real change. 

Since neither of the first two candidates secured over 50% of the votes required for being elected, they were compelled to face a run-off, a week later. Much to everyone's surprise, including the Iranian theocratic hard-liners, the turnout in the run-off was 49.8%, a giant leap, indeed. 

It looks like the reformist camp encouraged voters, especially the young who yearn for a meaningful change, to vote if they wanted the change they fancied and it appeared to have worked in their favour.

In the run-off contest, Dr Pezeshkian won comfortably by getting over 16.4 million votes whereas his rival just got 13.6 million votes. The latter conceded the outcome.

Dr Pezeshkian promised a relaxed dress code for women, internet access with minimum restrictions and minimum censorship by state bodies; it is a tall order, indeed. 

At present, Iranians are barred from accessing internet in a broader manner and most of the young, if not all, use VPN services to bypass the seemingly impenetrable restrictions. 

More than anyone else, Dr Pezeshkian knows it very well too,  as he said very clearly, “The difficult path ahead will not be smooth except with your companionship, empathy and trust.”

Iran that has been grappling with a precipitously falling birth rate for years,  has a very young population with 16-64-age-group being more than 68%. Dr Pezeshkian knows that it is a demography that neither he nor the Shia theocracy can ignore. He also knows that every single policy decision must be in line with the wishes of Ayatollah ali Khamenei, the Iranian Supreme Leader.

Iranian inflation

No doubt, Dr Pezeshkian will try his best to dealing with the crippling sanctions imposed by the West, especially the archfoe, the United States - as the top priority: rampant inflation, coupled with falling income, has left a significant number of Iranians in abject poverty. 

In order to kickstart the process, he needs to revive the JCPOA - Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - otherwise known as 2015 Iranian nuclear deal. 

When it was in place, the relations between the Iranians and the West improved considerably. In 2018, however, President Trump unilaterally suspended it, citing Iran's non-compliance with the deal in full; Mr Trump accused Iran of enriching uranium to weapon grade that ultimately can lead to producing a nuclear bomb. The US re-imposed sanctions against Iran and the West followed suit.

When President Biden came to power in 2020, he tried to revive the nuclear deal. Despite a few rounds of talks, there was no agreement and the negotiations came to a dead end, with the rest of timeline punctuated by various forms of rhetoric, sabre-rattling and even direct threats - and counter-threats.

As things stand, the stakes cannot be higher as far as Iran is considered, given the volatile situation that the Middle East is currently go through. 

Iran's support for Shia militant groups in the region, its hatred towards Israel and the loathing of the US can easily get in the way in the event of improving on the relations with the West. 

Although Ayatollah Khamenei initially refused to equate the record low-turnout and voter apathy in the first round of the presidential election to the disillusionment of the people, he later acknowledged the bitter truth: "We listen to them and we know what they are saying and it is not like they are hidden and not seen," said he recently in an unusually rare admission of the ground realities.  

2015 Iranian Nuclear Deal (JCPOA)

Official Name: Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)
  • ▬ Iran
  • ▬ P5+1 (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, United States + Germany)
  • ▬ European Union
Date Signed: July 14, 2015
Key Provisions:
  • ▬ Iran agreed to limit its nuclear program
  • ▬ Reduction of its stockpile of enriched uranium
  • ▬ Limits on the number and type of centrifuges
  • ▬ Redesign of the Arak heavy water reactor
Verification: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections
Sanctions Relief: Gradual lifting of international sanctions on Iran
Controversies and Criticism:
  • ▬ Concerns over Iran's future nuclear capabilities
  • ▬ Disagreements over the scope and effectiveness of the deal
US Withdrawal: May 8, 2018, under President Donald Trump

On a positive note, if Dr Pezeshkian can revive the JCPOA, 2015 nuclear deal, not only can Iran sell its oil as a legitimate player in the international markets, but also get the sanctions lifted. Since that is his top priority, he may win some concessions from the hard-line theocracy that has been running Iran since 1979, after the Islamic Revolution.

With the arrival of a new president in Iran, a committed reformist, analysts in the crude oil markets now have to keep an eye on yet another factor to determine the price fluctuations of the commodity, the estimated political progress made by Iran at international level. 

If Dr Pezeshkian gets his way by defying all odds, the arrival of Iranian oil into the markets will be much faster than we thought it was going to,  a few months ago. 

He appears to be determined to achieve his goals and deliver on his promises, because he did not mince his words, when he has said that if his attempts to reform are thwarted, he would resign and call on the people to withdraw from the political process - a threat that is not be taken lightly.

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