Iran’s Raisi cannot maintain stability with anti-U.S. hard-line stance

There can be no hope for rejuvenation of the economy and a stable system if Iran only strengthens its confrontational stance against such parties as the United States, Europe and Israel and tightens its control on its people. The new Iranian government needs to avoid escalating its hard-line stance.

Conservative anti-U.S. hard-liner Ebrahim Raisi, who heads the nation’s judiciary, has won the Iranian presidential election. He will take office in August, replacing conservative moderate President Hassan Rouhani, who promoted international cooperation. This will be the first hard-line government in eight years.

In Iran, which utilizes an Islamic system based on unity between politics and religion, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds complete power. Nevertheless, the president can formulate certain policies related to diplomacy and the economy, and the elections have reflected the will of the people.

In presidential elections, a supervisory body under the influence of the supreme leader examines the eligibility of candidates. This time, it was particularly strict, and leading moderate candidates and reformists seeking greater freedom were not allowed to run. The overwhelming victory of the high-profile Raisi can be called a foregone conclusion.

At the age of 81, it is time for Khamenei to consider his successor. The supreme leader likely gave his substantial support to Raisi, a strict Islamic jurist who has been responsible for maintaining security, thinking that such a move would be the best way to protect the regime.

The Iranian ruling class should pay attention to the fact that voter turnout was only 48.8%, a record low. The reported number of invalid votes, such as blank votes, greatly exceeded the number earned by the runner-up candidate.

This clearly indicates dissatisfaction among the voters, who were deprived of choices, and their distrust of the regime. If Raisi governs the country based on hard-line policies, public sentiment will be further alienated.

The immediate focus is on whether Iran will maintain the nuclear agreement it reached with the United States, Europe and other countries in 2015. Since the U.S. administration of former President Donald Trump withdrew from the agreement and reinstated sanctions against Iran, Iran has also deviated from the agreement and expanded its nuclear development.

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden seeks to return to the nuclear pact, and Raisi has also pledged to continue to stay in the agreement. His real intention appears to be to appeal to the public by getting sanctions lifted as soon as possible and reviving the economy, which has hit rock bottom.

The United States insists that Iran must first stop its nuclear development program, which is in breach of the agreement. The United States also urges Iran to halt its ballistic missile development and to refrain from hegemonic actions, including intervening in the civil war in Yemen. The gap between the two countries is huge, and the negotiations will inevitably encounter rough waters.

Iran must recognize that it will continue to face international isolation and economic hardship unless it breaks away from its nuclear development and actions that destabilize the region. Japan maintains good relations with Iran and should encourage international cooperation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 22, 2021.