Iran's Elections Fuel Its Foreign Policy

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Kaveh L. Afrasiabi

Firday's elections in Iran for the Parliament and the Expert Assembly have put the international spotlight on the country, which is imbued with democratic qualities and, as a result, compares favorably in the region featuring so many non-democratic Arab countries, whose leaders have stunted the hopeful expectations of the "Arab Spring." The mere repetition of the electoral process in Iran not only deepens the democratic values and norms, it also reminds the outside world of the independence, popular sovereignty, and dynamism of today's Iran, rightly boasting of its political stability and security. In terms of Iran's external image, the competitive and pluralistic elections in Iran undoubtedly improve Iran's image and thus add to the country's diplomatic prowess, in light of the Foreign Minister Zarif's twitter message reminding the outside world that the country's strength prevents any insult to Iran and its proud citizens. For a government that has embarked on an ambitious new chapter in foreign relations in the post-nuclear accord context, these elections represent fresh logs in the furnace of "constructive engagement" with the international community, given the universal attraction of democratic norms that are clearly manifested in the high voter turnout at the tens of thousands of ballot boxes across Iran.

Thus the message of these elections is strong and clear: the political order is based on popular votes and enjoys a high degree of political legitimacy, which deprives forces hostile toward Iran of an opportunity to undermine the regime, which has journeyed through many a storm and stress throughout its 37 year history. Given the regional context of Iran-Saudi Arabia rivalry and the lingering tensions between Iran and the United States, the significance of the popular elections in Iran in strengthening the country vis-a-vis these hostile powers is unmistakable.
With respect to the administration of Dr. Hassan Rouhani and its foreign agenda, the election results matter and may well be interpreted as adding to the government's political capital and giving it further mandate to pursue its current path of policies. A minor realignment caused by the de facto alliance of reformists and pro-government factions is also a distinct possibility that can be determined by the final tally of votes. Yet even the re-emergence of the Principlists as the dominant Majlis faction does not necessarily spell a defeat for the Rouhani administration, which has the unique quality of a political centrist capable of attracting from diverse factions. Indeed, this is the principal reason why the administration had a relatively smooth working relations with the Ninth Majlis and, in all likelihood, will also enjoy an extended honeymoon with the coming Tenth Majlis, which will scrutinize the annual budget and the next 5 year plan, among other things. In other words, the Majlis will assume an additional role above and beyond "checks and balance" with respect to the executive branch, it will also complement it, e.g., by streamlining laws aimed at facilitating the government's economic agenda.

Simultaneously, these elections carry a clear message for the US Congress, which is pondering new sanctions on Iran, that is, Iran's legitimate political system is immune to the American shenanigan aimed at undermining the nuclear accord and the stability of the Islamic Republic. The Europeans, on the other hand, will find it relatively easier to deal with and interact with Iran, which nowadays acts as a pillar of stability in a volatile region. By ingratiating the international community toward Iran, the Iranian elections bolster Iran's position in the international arena and enrichen the hands of its diplomats to pursue their foreign policy objectives, whereas a disorderly, controversial or low-turnout elections would have the opposite effect of weakening Iran's hands in managing its external affairs. Consequently, the country's political elite have every reason to boast of a landmark victory in the form of the spectacular display of national unity at the polls.

*Kaveh L.Afrasiabi, Ph.D. is the co-author of Iran Nuclear Negotiations: Accord and Detente Since the Geneva Agreement of 2013 (Rowman & littlefield, 2015).

More By Kaveh L. Afrasiabi:

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*Europe And Asia Reap Benefits of US Nuclear Diplomacy on Iran:

*These views represent those of the author and are not necessarily Iran Review's viewpoints.

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