This article was originally published by E-International Relations on 25 May 2017.
The twentieth presidential election since the 1979 Iranian revolution has been characterized by an impressive voter turnout. Approximately 73% of the Iranian electorate went to the polls, re-confirming Hassan Rouhani as president of the Islamic Republic of Iran with 23,549,616 votes (57%) against the 15,786,449 votes (38%) for the principlist presidential candidate Ebraim Raisi. A pragmatist, Rouhani’s main achievement during his first four year in power was the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), a landmark nuclear deal concluded in July 2015 between the Islamic Republic, the P5+1 (France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, China and Russia) and the European Union . The re-election of Rouhani will safeguard the agreement and deliver a temporary setback to the powerful ultra-conservative factions, namely the bastions of the 1979 Islamic revolution: the Revolutionary Guards, the Basij and the judiciary.
Rouhani’s pragmatic agenda during his first mandate focused on the nuclear deal as a tool to boost economic recovery through the lifting of international sanctions. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) Country Report published in February 2017, the ‘historic’ deal was successful as the economy was “boosted by the swift recovery in oil production and exports, real GDP grew by 7.4 percent in the first half 2016/17, recovering from recession in 2015/16”.
This article was originally published by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) on 12 May 2017.
On May 19, the Islamic Republic of Iran holds presidential elections, the first following the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement. Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani is running against five other candidates, approved by Iran’s Guardian Council to compete in the election. The race has centred heavily on economic policies for tackling high unemployment and growing inequality, together with how to reintegrate the country into global financial platforms following the rollback of sanctions in the aftermath of the nuclear deal.
Policy decisions in Iran are largely devised through consensus among the various leadership figures represented in the Supreme National Security Council (SNSC). The SNSC is headed by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, who is the final arbiter on matters of national security, but the presidential role has proven capable of steering decisions towards moderate or radical positions. For European governments and businesses that have long dealt with the Islamic Republic, there is a clear distinction between the administrations of former presidents Mohammad Khatami, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Rouhani.
This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 6 April 2017.
Ahead of the Donald Trump-Xi Jinping summit this week at Mar-a-Lago, Taiwan is understandably anxious. Trump’s ascendance to the American presidency has injected uncertainty into the U.S. approach to China and Taiwan — an element of foreign policy that is traditionally carefully calibrated to avoid upsetting the precarious cross-strait arrangement. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen’s unprecedented phone call with then-President -elect Trump in early December seemed to herald a new, more muscularly pro-Taiwan approach. This impression was subsequently belied by Trump’s suggestion that Taiwan could be traded away as part of a grand bargain with China. Speculation about Trump’s interest in upending this long-standing U.S. policy died down after the president affirmed his support for the “one China policy” in his first conversation with Xi. The next month, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson adopted China’s verbiage regarding a “new model of great power relations” during his trip to Beijing.
Whether and how Trump and Xi will address the one China policy remains to be seen. “We are preparing for every scenario,” one unnamed Taiwanese official told The Washington Post. Yet the underlying problem is clear. As Taiwan’s recently released Quadrennial Defense Review argues, Chinese military power is increasing at the same time as the new administration’s plans for “the United States’ Asia-Pacific strategic direction and troop deployment” remain uncertain. These shifting geopolitical currents come at the same time as growing strain between Taiwan and China. Beijing regards Tsai’s traditionally pro-independence political party as antagonistic to its interests and, since her inauguration last May, has undertaken a campaign of increased economic, political, and military pressure.
This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 23 March 2017.
Afshon Ostovar, Vanguard of the Imam: Religion, Politics, and Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (Oxford University Press, 2016)
This past September in an audience hall in Tehran, a prominent vocalist named Sadegh Ahangaran took to a microphone to justify an Iranian military adventure. Ahangaran had earned the nickname “the nightingale of the Imam” for his melodies of martyrdom decades earlier during the Iran-Iraq War, his defiant voice often the last thing Iranian combatants heard before death. In his more recent performance, Ahangaran drew on these talents to serenade a similar crowd, but about a different war.
“I must break their windpipes in Aleppo, so that their feet do not touch Kermanshah,” sang Ahangaran, clad in the uniform of a member of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Reaching a crescendo, he thundered, “Since we have said no to the arrogance, we have disturbed the dream of the enemy … We are behind the Mullah until martyrdom.” Enraptured by the recital and seated on the floor before him were soldiers and commanders, past and present, of the IRGC. On a stage directly in front of them was their Mullah – Iran’s supreme leader and commander-in-chief – Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei.
This article was originally published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) on 9 December 2016.
Millions of people around the world went to the polls this year. The results provided plenty of surprises. British voters defied the pollsters and voted to leave the European Union. Colombians did much the same in rejecting their government’s peace deal with FARC, though Colombia’s president found a way to complete the deal a few months later without a vote. The biggest electoral surprise of all might have been in the United States, where Donald Trump defied the political experts and defeated Hillary Clinton. Perhaps 2017 will produce similarly surprising results. Here are ten elections to watch.