The ushering to power of a “reformist” in Iran’s recent elections happened not because of the government influence, but in spite of it.

Having the stigma of a doubtful presidential election result from 2010 many experts and Iran watchers expected similar problems with last week’s election. But with an estimated 50% of Iran’s 50 million registered voters turning out to vote in Hassan Rowhani, the naysayers have had to admit the election was peaceful, free and fair. One can expect a smooth transition from the Mahmoud Ahmadinejad years to one that by all accounts will more closely mirror the famed “dialogue of civilizations” years of former president Seyed Mohammad Khatami.

Rowhani, the second most powerful man in Iran after Supreme Leader Seyed Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, is a western-educated cleric, and a close friend of former presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Khatami — described as “reformers” by the western media.

The election victory should be welcomed, not just as a victory for the so-called reformers in Iran, but as a sign of things to come: specifically a new era of rapprochement between the western nations and the Islamic republic. The belligerence of the Ahmadinejad presidency, with its nuclear sabre-rattling, Holocaust denial and generally illogical foreign policy, is at an end.

A new, wiser government will start its work in a few months’ time — hopefully having learned from the past. The world, having lost its chance to deal with a bridge-building presidency in Iran once before under Khatami, now has another chance to give true meaning to his famous dialogue of civilisations idea.

As an adviser to one of the presidential candidates who was second in the overall poll, naturally there is a disappointment that my favoured candidate did not succeed. But there is a sense of optimism that those who believed that the result was pre-decided and that there was no use in participating in the election — have been proven wrong.

To understand the role played by the Guardians Council in vetting candidates is to understand the influence wielded by the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. Although he made it clear that he didn’t favour any particular candidate, the mistake made by some of the candidates was to promote themselves as his preferred choice. Because as results began coming in last Saturday it was clear that all suggestion of a pre-judged poll were untrue. Unexpectedly perhaps, the “system” actually allowed a candidate on a “reformist” platform, Rowhani, to win.

As the news broke millions of Iranians invaded the streets of Iran, celebrating their victory and hooting throughout the night.

Although I was among the losers, I also joined them in the celebration and was happy for their happiness. That heartfelt feeling of millions of youth that they can change Iran, was overwhelming.

Analysts have expressed theories around the unexpected victory of a reformist candidate. Among others, that Ayatollah Khamenei “allowed it to happen” to restore the country’s reputation after the flawed 2010 election, which ended in protests and unrest. Or that the Supreme Leader is fed up with the inability of the conservatives to deliver on election promises.

The reality is that the electoral process prevailed despite the system of pre-vetted candidates, and the role played by the Supreme Leader. The process was overwhelmingly democratic, insofar as Islamic democracy goes. Equal time was allocated to all candidates in the presidential debates. Each was allowed to campaign freely.

That is why all six candidates unanimously accepted the election result. I personally can attest to not having witnessed any irregularities with either my candidate’s campaign or others.

It’s time for us to move forward, accept the result, and prepare to engage Iran in a new era of constructive dialogue. The time is now.

Former British foreign secretary Jack Straw acknowledged once that the west had made terrible mistakes in dealing with Iran. With the “new Khatami” in power another chance has presented itself. Let another opportunity not be lost.

Seyed Abdollah Hoseini is the founder of the South Africa/Iran Friendship Association and the director of the Islamic Centre for Africa. He was head of international relations for the electoral campaign of presidential candidate and Tehran mayor Mohammad-Baqer Ghalibaf. He writes in his personal capacity.


  • Seyed Abdollah Hoseini is a lecturer in Islamic studies and a political analyst. He is the founder of the Islamic Centre for Africa and chairperson of the South Africa/Iran Friendship Association. He’s also a lecturer at Al Mustafa International University, Johannesburg.


Seyed Hoseini

Seyed Abdollah Hoseini is a lecturer in Islamic studies and a political analyst. He is the founder of the Islamic Centre for Africa and chairperson of the South Africa/Iran Friendship Association. He’s...

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