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

Ashdown Group: Project Manager - Birmingham - up to £40,000 - 12 month FTC

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Manager - Birmingham - ...

SThree: Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 - £30000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Sthree are looking fo...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin (based in London)

£20000 - £25000 per annum + commission: SThree: Real Staffing's Pharmaceutical...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Question time: Russell Brand interviewing Ed Miliband on his YouTube show  

Russell Brand's Labour endorsement is a stunning piece of hypocrisy

Lee Williams
IDF soldiers and vehicles in an image provided by campaign group Breaking the Silence  

'Any person you see – shoot to kill': The IDF doctrine which causes the death of innocent Palestinians

Ron Zaidel
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before