Leading article: A wind of change blows from Tehran

Share

Preliminary results in Iran's elections point to a defeat, if not a rout, for allies of the country's hard-line conservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As counting progressed last night, the chief winners looked likely to be the country's moderate conservatives, with reformists next, and the hardline conservatives lagging some way behind. In a highly symbolic victory, the former president, Akbar Rafsanjani, was assured election to the Assembly of Experts, the powerful religious group responsible for guiding policy and electing the Supreme Leader.

Formally, of course, President Ahmadinejad and his government will be unaffected by these elections, however unwelcome the results. Voting was for the Assembly of Experts and local councils only. The president's main electoral base, moreover, is in the countryside, so later results may limit the extent of the hardliners' defeat. And the main beneficiaries are moderate conservatives, rather than pro-Western reformers.

For all the caveats, however, the political wind in Iran seems to be blowing in a new direction. Mr Rafsanjani's victory followed his humiliation in the 2005 presidential elections, and it was by any measure a remarkable turnaround in his fortunes. The man regarded as his chief rival, Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who is also seen as Mr Ahmadinejad's political inspiration, has enough votes to retain his seat in the Assembly, but came in only sixth. The results of the municipal elections are following a similar pattern. And the turnout, at an average of 60 per cent across the country, was high by recent Iranian standards.

The quality of Iran's democracy may leave much to be desired. But the results and the turnout taken together suggest not only that there is a relatively high level of political engagement in Iran today, but that electors are prepared to cast their votes against the status quo. These elections were always going to be seen as a verdict on Mr Ahmadinejad's controversial presidency. If present trends are borne out, that verdict will be a decisive expression of disapproval.

The question is: what effect will this negative verdict have on Iran's government and its policies? Probably, the president and his supporters will try to dismiss the results as irrelevant for the central government, or at most a disappointment. But Mr Ahmadinejad is already well past his honeymoon period. At home, he has found it harder to improve the lives of impoverished Iranians as quickly as he had hoped. His clumsy conduct of foreign policy, rhetorically tailored to his home audience, has been a serious liability abroad. A poor poll performance now could undercut his authority, and he could come under pressure to change tack.

Until now, Mr Ahmadinejad has sent ambiguous signals about how he envisages relations with the outside world. In his own terms, he has also been fortunate. US difficulties in Iraq and the upsurge in violence in the Middle East have left Iran the dominant regional power. Tehran has used its position of strength to reject all concessions on its nuclear programme, justifiably accusing Western countries of applying a double standard. A stand-off at the UN Security Council looks hard to avoid in the New Year.

The hardliners' election defeat suggests that Iranians would prefer their government to pursue a less ideologically driven policy towards the West. At best, this could encourage Mr Ahmadinejad to accept a compromise on the nuclear issue. At worst, though, it could force him on to the defensive and make him even more stubborn than before. It will take agile and well-directed Western diplomacy to tease a more normal relationship out of this domestic electoral defeat.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Pokot woman holds a razor blade after performing a circumcision on four girls  

The campaigns to end FGM are a welcomed step, but they don't go far enough

Charlotte Rachael Proudman
Our political system is fragmented, with disillusioned voters looking to the margins for satisfaction  

Politics of hope needed to avert flight to margins

Liam Fox
Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game