First round in Iran’s presidential election

The Los Angeles Times reports: Polls cited in state-run media and reported by Western news agencies suggested for the first time in the closing hours of the campaign that Rowhani would get about 15% of the vote. A survey by the Mehr Center for Opinion Polling projected Tehran Mayor Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf would garner about 18% and chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili about 10%. A survey cited by the Fars News Agency two days earlier said Rowhani would come in third behind Qalibaf and Jalili.

Analysts note that the opportunity to derail the carefully orchestrated election could be as much of a lure for reformists to abandon their intended boycott as is the prospect of a moderate winning or at least making it into the runoff.

“The whole purpose of having Aref drop out and having Rowhani become the favorite son of the reform camp was deliberately and unquestionably intended to get people to come out and vote,” said Gary Sick, a senior research scholar at Columbia University and a former National Security Council member under presidents Ford, Carter and Reagan.

“What has happened in virtually every election is that, when given the least opportunity, the people of Iran vote against the regime,” said Sick, who was chief White House aide for Iran during the revolution and hostage crisis. “It is not at all inconceivable that the reformist camp, if enough people decide to vote, could come through this election in good shape.”

Trita Parsi writes: There are three factors that may create opportunities for resolving tensions with Iran if Mr. Rouhani wins the elections – and the regime is forced to respect that result.

First, it’s not just about Rouhani; it’s about the personnel that would follow him into government and populate key ministries and institutions and reconfigure the political makeup of the regime’s decision-making table. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power, within months he fired 80 of Iran’s most experienced ambassadors and foreign policy profiles. Many of these were Iran’s most pragmatic and competent foreign policy hands, often key players in Iran’s more conciliatory decisions, such as the collaboration with the United States in Afghanistan and the suspension of enrichment in 2004. They were replaced by inexperienced ideologues hired not for their capabilities but their loyalty to Mr. Ahmadinejad. A reversal of this trend can prove quite valuable.

Second, Mr. Rouhani and his entourage hold a different world view than those close to Mr. Ahmadinejad and the supreme leader. While still suspicious and distrustful of the West, and while still committed to Iran’s bottom line on the nuclear issue, the elite that associates with Mr. Rouhani does not see the world in Manichean black and white. The outside world may be seen as hostile, but common interests can still be found. Collaboration is still possible. Rather than emphasizing ideology and resistance, they pride themselves on being pragmatic and results-oriented (of course, within the context of the political spectrum of the Islamic republic). It is not a surprise that most of the sensitive arrangements Iran have entered into came about during periods that this current dominated Iran’s decision making.

Third is the difference in assessing the risks of peacemaking versus confrontation. The hardliners’ insistence on resistance at any cost combined with their hesitance about compromise, indicates far greater willingness to accept risks for escalation and confrontation than for compromise. A similar problem exists on the American side, where risks for confrontation are easier accepted and assessed to be smaller than the risks one inevitably has to take to strike a deal. This psychological dimension of Tehran’s cost-benefit analysis should not be discounted.

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