Masoud Pezshkian during a campaign event in Tehran on June 23, 2024

Pezeshkian’s Presidency: A Weaker Echo of Rouhani's Legacy?

Sunday, 06/23/2024

Masoud Pezeshkian, Iran’s pro-reform candidate, is notably non-combative and refrains from personal attacks on other candidates both in and outside of debates. When confronted with attacks, he remains silent.

Regarding agendas and issues, the 70-year-old doctor, commits only to implementing existing policies and laws, steering clear of any controversies.

Former president Hassan Rouhani claims that two candidates, Alireza Zakani and Amir Hossein Qazizadeh, were qualified by the Guardian Council specifically to attack the pro-reform candidate during the debates. This raises the question: does Pezeshkian, as the sole advocate of some reforms, have a chance to win? If he does win, what changes can he deliver in domestic and foreign policies?

Pezeshkian’s chances of winning

Four realities on the ground tell us that we should not consider him a loser at this moment. The first one is that other candidates believe he could win. When Pezeshkian said Zakani is going to withdraw and support another candidate in the third debate, Zakani replied "I will not let you become the president." This means that he believes in the possibility of his victory.

The second notable fact is the anticipated increase in voter participation compared to the 2021 presidential and March 2024 parliamentary elections. With the entry of the Reform Front, which has about 10-15% of the voting base, even if only half of them participate, overall turnout will rise. Not only the Reform Front supports Pezeshkian but historically, in the Islamic Republic, any increase in voter turnout has benefited pro-reform candidates. Still, overall turnout can be less than 50%, a bit higher than in the past two elections.

The third reality is reflected in the poll results from online and security institutions. Although these polls and their conducting institutions are not entirely trustworthy and tend to be biased against reformers, they cannot completely distort the public's opinion. Despite this bias, Pezeshkian consistently ranks first or second in these polls.

The fourth fact is the significant turnout at some of Pezeshkian's rallies in major cities. For instance, his election rally in a sports arena in Shiraz was packed, with several thousand people unable to get inside. A segment of the electorate, albeit small, believes that his presidency could bring about change.

Can a Pezeshkian presidency bring change?

Although Pezeshkian’s opponents and rivals label his potential administration as Hassan Rouhani’s third term, he is likely to be a weaker and less effective executive for three reasons.

First, his personality and background differ significantly from Rouhani's. Hassan Rouhani was one of the founders of the Islamic Republic and was the first to call Khomeini "Imam," elevating him to the status of a Shia saint. Rouhani served in top political and security positions for three decades before becoming president. In contrast, Pezeshkian has only served as the Minister of Health and a lawmaker.

The second reason is Rouhani's substantial electoral support, with over 18 million and 23 million votes in two elections, both with more than 70% voter turnout. This strong mandate allowed him to have some influence on foreign policy. In contrast, Pezeshkian is unlikely to secure such a large number of votes and lacks the ability to turn popular support into a strong mandate.

The third reason is the expanded power of the IRGC and the totalitarian faction during the Raisi administration. Today, all power channels are controlled by military and security ‘mafia’ type groups. Pezeshkian cannot marginalize them and would have to include them in his cabinet. Their influence in the Khatami and Rouhani cabinets was significantly less than the current political reality. Due to Ali Khamenei’s support for these hardliners, Pezeshkian cannot challenge them.

For these reasons, a Pezeshkian administration would not only fail to replicate Hassan Rouhani's but would likely be much weaker and more disastrous. While Rouhani at least demonstratively drafted a charter for citizens' rights, which was quickly forgotten, or criticized the IRGC, Pezeshkian would be unable to even address these issues. Additionally, Rouhani never pledged to follow Ali Khamenei’s policies unquestioningly or to be “melted in him,” a promise Pezeshkian cannot avoid making.

The opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily the views of Iran International.

More News