A decade-long trend toward an increasingly conservative makeup of all of Iran’s most powerful political institutions was disrupted at the presidential election held in June 2013. Hassan Rowhani, the lone moderate among the six candidates vying to succeed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, emerged the victor, winning slightly more than 50 percent of the first-round vote.

During his campaign, Rowhani pledged a break with the “extremism” that characterized Ahmadinejad’s tenure, a message that appealed not only to moderate voters, but also to conservatives fed up with the economic mismanagement, factional infighting, and deteriorating relations with the west that were the dominant themes of the Ahmadinejad era.

In general, the composition of the new Cabinet suggests a liberal bent with regard to economic policy, pointing to a retreat from the populism of the previous administration. However, the mere fact that Rowhani’s candidacy was approved by the Guardian Council underscores the reality that his views are by-and-large consistent with those of the conservative mainstream. Moreover, he assumes the presidency at a time when the influence of the office vis-à-vis other state institutions has been much weakened, the result of Ahmadinejad’s defeat in a power struggle with Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The president has made a real effort to change the tone of the nuclear discussions.

How the power relationship evolves over the course of Rowhani’s four-year term will depend to some extent on whether the president can sustain the broad-based popular support that carried him to victory. In that regard, economic conditions are likely to be a key factor, and any quick improvement on the economic front will almost certainly require an easing of the international sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the EU in an effort to force Iran to abandon its nuclear program.

Rowhani already has sought to temper expectations, warning that there are “no overnight solutions” to Iran’s problems. The president has made a real effort to change the tone of the nuclear discussions, expressing Iran’s willingness to work cooperatively with the international community to reach a compromise that ends the dispute. However, when discussing specifics—in particular, Iran’s assertion of a right to produce nuclear material for peaceful purposes — there is little to distinguish Rowhani’s position from the status quo.

The prospects for a lifting of sanctions may also be dimmed if the U.S. attempts to make Iran’s relationship with Syria a bargaining chip in discussions on that topic. Rowhani is already confronting a backlash from conservatives over statements that conveyed less than full support for the regime in Damascus, signaling that the president’s influence could become even more limited if he conveys a willingness to abandon Syria for the sake of improved relations with the U.S.


The PRS Group
About The Author The PRS Group
The PRS Group is a leading global provider of political and country risk analysis and forecasts, covering 140 countries. Based on proprietary, quantitative risk models, the firm's clientele includes financial institutions, multilateral agencies, and trans-national firms.


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