Feet on the Ground: Veteran Reformist explains political path ahead of his camp
Could the shaky future of the nuclear deal, the most significant achievement of the Rouhani administration, affect his social base for the 2017 presidential race?
US disruptions do not signify a violation of the JCPOA and according to experts, both sides have technically remained committed to the deal. The nuclear deal will take ten years to show its full results. It was Rouhani’s administrative priority to resolve the nuclear dispute with Western powers. He believed that Iran’s domestic problems could not be resolved before the country’s problems in the international scene are resolved through the lifting of sanctions. Those who say the deal should show immediate effect in people’s everyday life are raising expectations from the JCPOA. There is no place to worry about a decline in Rouhani’s voter base in the presidential election. In my opinion, the number of Mr. Rouhani’s ballots will not be much different from what it was back in 2013.
Do you think a runoff may decide the 2017 presidential election?
It depends on the rivals’ political lineup. If the Principlists struggle with disunity, failing to reach a settlement based on wisdom and foresight, Rouhani will win the election straight away. However, if they resolve their differences rationally, stop seeking factional shares, learn from the past, and back a prominent moderate figure, the election could go to a runoff.
While some Reformists are pondering a party-based approach to the election, others stress the individual potentials of Reformist figures. Which approach do you recommend? What approach will your party the Executives of Construction adopt?
Iran’s political atmosphere should not be viewed idealistically. It is impossible to give parties a central role in elections, not only in 2017, but also for several years to come. The establishment should recognize and have faith in a party-based system in practice and respect for the opposition first. In the past 35 years, competition among parties has remained a superficial theory, yet to be realized. That is why Reformists try to invest on well-known figures to collect votes alongside their limited party-based activities. Doubtlessly, today, Reformists act based on a collective consensus, deciding according to all-inclusive consultation with former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Calls for not handing Rouhani a blank check and setting conditions to endorse him are not common among the whole Reformist front, because Rouhani’s output has been beyond the Reformists’ expectations. The Executives of Construction Party also believes that the Reformists should be mobilized in coordination and all-inclusively, using all the existent potentials for success in the election.
Why are former presidents Khatami and Hashemi Rafsanjani leaders of the Reformist front in the election? How will this help them win the elections?
At the moment, the two former presidents’ views supplement each other. Hashemi Rafsanjani has great potential and brilliant background in the establishment during the years of revolution and afterwards. He possesses charisma, spiritual power, and international popularity. President Khatami on the other hand, has well-structured and efficient political forces. Therefore, the combination of their views could be of great help for the Reformist front in the rough road ahead. Even though Khatami has risen from the Hashemi administration, he has turned into a balancing weight in Iran’s politics because of his consistency, discourse, and credibility. The Reformist front approaches Khatami when it needs theory and approaches Hashemi when it needs pragmatism.
Hashemi Rafsanjani believes that Rouhani needs a second term to achieve his mission. Some argue that Hashemi is the “godfather” of the Rouhani administration and that Rouhani listens to everything he says. This is absolutely wrong and they have clearly different identities. Even though they have a lot in common, they pursue their own methods in practice. It seems that the group that kept Hashemi from running in the 2013 presidential race is now seeking to put an end to Rouhani’s presidency. They are trying to make Rouhani give up candidacy in the election, through unconventional political deal-making.
If they succeed, will Mohammadreza Aref replace Rouhani in the Reformist camp?
If that happens, the Reformist front should look for a replacement with caution. Despite Mr. Aref’s competence, I do not believe he could replace Rouhani. The Reformist front should take into account every possibility and prepare for every likely scenario. The front cannot afford to make a mistake. Mr. Aref is now managing Reformist lawmakers in the parliament and it is not in our best interests to get him involved in the presidential election.
For a while, the Principlists approached President Rouhani seeking their own profit. In recent months however, they have demonstrated a strategic shift toward Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf. What is the reason behind this shift?
The Principlists’ shift towards one from their own camp shows the intricacy of pragmatic politics in Iran’s real political scene. Before the candidate vetting process, the Principlist front has time to mobilize public opinions against Rouhani. After that and in spite of multiple campaigns, it will change strategy and try to reach consensus on a single candidate. Qalibaf seems to be their final choice. He has already started his political moves. The fundamental question, however, is the approach he is going to adopt for his campaign. He has been more or less successful in the early years of his tenure as Tehran mayor. In the meantime, His later years are replete with questions and obscure points, criticized by many experts and commentators. That is why we hear from certain corners that he is trying to resolve issues brought up during his tenure as mayor, before he runs for office. Because he has lost two elections in 2005 and 2013, he expects that the Principlists do not introduce another candidate and roll out a red carpet only for him. Thus, he will not tolerate another Principlist candidate running in parallel with him. He is well-aware that in case of another defeat, he will never be able to reach top level administrative roles again.
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