NewsIran elects first non-cleric president in over a decade

Iran elects first non‑cleric president in over a decade

The new president of Iran, Masud Pezeshkian
The new president of Iran, Masud Pezeshkian
Images source: © PAP | STR
Jacek Losik

6 July 2024 10:59

Iranians have elected a new president. The 69-year-old Masoud Pezeshkian has been elected, becoming the first non-cleric to hold this position in over ten years. During his campaign, the former health minister pledged to address the high inflation problem and ease American sanctions.

“We will extend the hand of friendship to everyone; we are all people of this country; we should use everyone for the progress of the country,” said Masoud Pezeshkian after the results of the second round of presidential elections were announced, in which he garnered 3 million more votes than the "hardline Islamist Saeed Jalili," as Bloomberg reports.

During the election campaign, the 69-year-old cardiac surgeon served as health minister from 2001-2005, identified with reformists and moderate forces in Iran’s theocracy. He is the first non-cleric president in eleven years. It should be noted that the clergy is one of the distinguishing features of the Shia branch of Islam, which dominates in Iran.

The elections were held following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. Bloomberg writes that Pezeshkian's assumption of office will mark a sharp departure from his predecessor, Raisi. He is the first non-cleric since Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to be elected president, and his almost clean-shaven face and simple style underline his distance from the clerical elite, which in recent years has been grappling with an unprecedented level of opposition.

The American agency also adds that although Pezeshkian is seen as a man with modern views and is highly educated, he is also deeply religious. His frequent use of English business jargon in TV debates was balanced by his recitation of the Quran, which secured him support from more conservative voters.

High inflation and sanctions

One of the main tasks that the new Iranian president has set for himself is resolving the high inflation problem. According to the latest data for April, the inflation rate was 30.9%. This is a decline compared to March (32.3%). The worst in this regard was in March of the previous year when the rate stopped at 55.5%.

As Pezeshkian said, the way to "make people's lives better" is to ease American sanctions after the unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran during Donald Trump's presidency.

The Bloomberg agency recalls that Trump's foreign policy during his 2017-2021 term was defined by a hostile 'maximum pressure' strategy on Iran, which destabilised the Persian Gulf, shook oil markets, and nearly triggered a direct war.

The potential return of a Republican, as well as the tense situation in the Middle East due to the war between Israel and Hamas, are the most significant foreign challenges for Pezeshkian, who, during the election campaign, advocated for "constructive relations" with Washington and European countries in order to "get Iran out of its isolation."

Recall that ammunition for attacks by Yemeni Houthi fighters, which has effectively silenced maritime transport through the Red Sea and Suez Canal, is unofficially supplied mainly by Iran. Isolated on the international stage in recent years, with a series of sanctions imposed on Moscow by the West following the armed assault on Ukraine, Tehran has significantly warmed its relations with Russia. Among other things, Iranian-made drones have been attacking Ukrainians.

The new Iranian president is not a guarantee of revolution

The situation in the Middle East, which also affects prices in Europe and global oil prices, largely depends on Iran. However, observers emphasise that one should not expect a sudden revolution in the country merely because the new president significantly differs in views from the previous one.

"The president in Iran’s political system must implement the general policy line of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei while leading the government, and all candidacies in the elections must be approved by the Guardian Council of Iran, whose tasks include, among others, interpreting the constitution and overseeing elections," writes the Polish Press Agency.

Bloomberg comments that the Iranian parliament is dominated by hardliners who have thwarted earlier efforts to restore the 2015 nuclear deal. The agency further adds that Pezeshkian is expected to address the sharp opposition to strict dress codes for women and their harsh treatment by security forces. His reformist and moderate predecessors mostly failed to achieve this, as much of Iran's policy is ultimately decided by unelected bodies, such as the judiciary or Khamenei himself.

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