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Moderate Approach

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The ‘moderate’ candidate, Masoud Pezeshkian, has been elected President in the Islamic Republic of Iran. In a highly regulated fundamentalist system, his emergence as the people’s choice sends a clear message to ‘Supreme Leader’ Ali Khamenei and the establishment that the people are not happy with the way the country is being run. The low turnout in the first phase of the election had indicated the disillusionment of the voters. This went up in the second round when Pezeshkian emerged as a serious challenger against the hardliners. This does not imply, however, that the establishment is going to change its ideology, as all the real power remains with the ‘Supreme Leader’.

There is no doubt, however, that the people are not happy at the fundamentalist interpretation of Shia Islam that not only has isolated them internationally, but also pitted them against the Arab Sunnis. Iran has for decades now been in constant conflict with the Western powers, its neighbours, Israel and terrorist groups. Considering the fact that, under the monarchy, it was quite a liberal and forward-looking society, its adoption of Ayatollah Khomeini’s world vision proved to be a serious mistake. Women, in particular, have suffered enormously and the recent wave of protests despite the most severe repression indicates the level of resentment. (It is a lesson for people in other countries to carefully examine alternatives on offer when they wish to change governments.)

Not even a President can take a line very different from that of the Supreme Leader, which is why the new incumbent has made clear that he will not adopt a confrontationist line. But there is no doubt that he has the people’s support for reform. While the establishment has used assassinations and executions as a means to not only retain its hold over the country, but also enforce its ideology, it too will have to tread a cautious path under the new circumstances.

President-elect Pezeshkian has already articulated his understanding of Iran’s dire situation, both, economically and strategically. Even a small change of direction will require enormous effort. Among the few countries that have good relations with Iran, India can continue to assist in numerous ways. In fact, just as in the case with Afghanistan, India’s approach is of working in the common people’s interest, which ensures change of leadership does not impact much on relations. The new President is inclined towards reform and, hopefully, will make Iran a more civilised nation.