THE tiny Christian
community in Iran, and other minorities in the country, "have
reason to feel cautiously optimistic about the future" after the
outright victory of the lone moderate candidate Hassan Rowhani, in
the first round of last Friday's presidential election, a European
diplomat in Tehran said.
"Put it this way," he
continued, "the plight of religious minorities is certainly not
going to get worse, and the strong likelihood is that under Rowhani
things will gradually improve."
The new Iranian leader,
who crucially had the backing of two important reformers - the
former Presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami
- won just over 50 per cent of votes, defeating three hardline
During the campaign, Mr
Rowhani, who is 65, and is well regarded by politicians and
diplomats in the West, promised to take steps to improve human
rights in general by drawing up a charter to guarantee personal
freedoms, including sex equality; freedom for political prisoners;
and the removal of restrictions on the media.
While ultimate power
still rests with the country's supreme spiritual leader, Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei, the latter enjoys a good relationship with the newly
appointed President, and the hardline Guardian's Council did not
vet his candidature as it did those of Mr Rafsanjani and Mr
Khatami. "Rowhani can appoint technocrats and like-minded figures
to top government posts," the Tehran-based diplomat said. "This
will make a difference."
Mr Rowhani, a former
nuclear negotiator with the West, who reached a deal with European
countries a decade ago which was subsequently rejected by the
Tehran leadership, has promised a new era of international
co-operation. Although this does not automatically mean an end to
the Iran nuclear crisis, the new President will be in a strong
position to convince Ayatollah Khamenei that it would be in the
country's best interests to take a less confrontational tone in
future nuclear negotiations with world powers.
In any event, Iran will
look and sound like a very different country from the one presided
over by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad since 2005. An Iran expert at the
Brookings Institution in Washington, Suzanne Maloney, told the
daily newspaper The National, in Abu Dhabi, that Mr
Rowhani's victory suggested "a shift of historic proportions". She
described him as an ideal candidate "to spearhead a new initiative
to wrest Iran from its debilitating battle with the international
community over the nuclear issue".
Until the last few days
of the campaign, when the millions of Iranians seeking reform threw
their weight behind Mr Rowhani, the assumption had been that one of
the hardline candidates, probably the Mayor of Tehran, Mohammad
Baqer Qalibaf, would be the victor. But he won only 15.6 per cent
of the vote.
mistake was to field three candidates rather than a single one,"
the diplomat said. "Even though the reformists have been in the
shadows for the past few years, they saw an opportunity in
Rowhani's candidature, and grabbed it."
Unlike the previous presidential elections, in 2009, the latest
polling passed off peacefully. Not only was this election regarded
as free and fair, but the result meant that those sections of
Iranian society who were angered by Mr Ahmadinejad's flawed
victory, and took to the streets to protest, are today celebrating
Mr Rowhani's success.