Former health minister and heart surgeon wins election in Iran

Former health minister and heart surgeon wins election in Iran


Iran’s elected president Massud Peseschkian/picture alliance, dpa, AP, Vahid Salemi

Tehran – Iran is facing a possible change in policy following the election victory of the relatively moderate presidential candidate Massoud Peseschkian. The former health minister and heart surgeon won with 53.7 percent of the vote against his ultra-conservative challenger Said Jalili, as the spokesman for the electoral authority in Tehran announced.

However, given the complex political situation and powerful interest groups in Iran, it is unclear to what extent the runoff winner, Peseschkian, can actually be expected to change course. State television showed images of supporters celebrating the 69-year-old’s victory with honking in the early hours of the morning. In the capital Tehran, however, the reactions were initially muted.

The politician belongs to the camp of the reform movement. Its supporters believe in the status quo of the Islamic Republic and say they want to reform the system from within. Jalili, on the other hand, belongs to the so-called fundamentalists, the second major political alliance, who are often referred to as hardliners.

However, most Iranians, especially young people, have now lost faith in major domestic political changes. Reforms of the political system are not possible, they often say resignedly. “We will extend the hand of friendship to everyone,” said Peseschkian after his election victory. “Let us all work for the country’s advancement.” Political rivals are also brothers.

The defeated Jalili congratulated his opponent and promised him his support. On Platform X he wrote that he would help Peseschkian’s “government to bridge the problems and advance the country’s progress.” However, it is considered unlikely that the warring camps will actually cooperate.

The early election followed the death of incumbent Ebrahim Raisi, who died in a helicopter crash in May. His nearly three-year reign was marked by major political repression, waves of protests and a deteriorating economic situation.

Peseschkian comes from the northwest of the country. During the first Gulf War with neighboring Iraq, he studied medicine and also served on the front lines for a while. After the war, he continued his work as a doctor and made a career as a heart surgeon in the metropolis of Tabriz.

During the election campaign, the rather inconspicuous politician campaigned for a new relationship of trust between the government and the people, because most Iranians are extremely disappointed with politics after failed attempts at reform. Like many other politicians from the reform camp, Peseschkian called for an improvement in relations with the West, also in order to open up the country and stimulate the ailing economy.

The widower, who lost his wife and one of his sons in a traffic accident in the early 1990s, also appeared at his campaign events with his daughter and grandchildren. With his efforts to be approachable and the campaign slogan “for Iran”, Peseschkian wanted to make it clear that he was committed to the people. It is unclear to what extent he wants and can keep this promise.

Peseschkian expressed his unconditional loyalty to religious leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all strategic matters and is the most powerful man in the Islamic Republic.

During Mohammed Khatami’s second presidency (2001-2005), Peseschkian already gained government experience as Minister of Health. Despite his moderate rhetoric, he backed the powerful Revolutionary Guard, Iran’s elite military force, and praised the most recent drone and missile attack on arch-enemy Israel in April. In TV debates, he described himself as a conservative politician who, however, believes reforms are necessary.

“Even among supporters of the regime, there are still significant masses who are in favor of a more moderate approach and cautious reforms,” says political scientist Tareq Sydiq of the University of Marburg.

He sees Peseschkian’s election victory as a symbolic success for moderate and reform-minded forces within Iran. “This will certainly be at least acknowledged within the power system,” says the Iran expert.

It is also unclear how Peseschkian intends to implement his criticism of the headscarf policy and the strict controls of the morality police in practice. “It remains to be seen whether the various power blocs will be impressed by his ideas.”

Overall, however, it remains to be seen whether the movement of reform politicians, which was actually declared dead, will return to power. The parliament is currently dominated by radical hardliners.

Since the revolution of 1979, Iran’s political system has combined republican and theocratic elements. However, there are no free elections: the so-called Guardian Council, a powerful Islamic control body, always checks candidates for their suitability. This time, the Guardian Council only allowed six of the 80 presidential candidates to stand as candidates.

Unlike in many other countries, the president in Iran is not the head of state. Actual power is concentrated in the hands of the religious leader, who has been Khamenei since 1989. The Revolutionary Guards have also expanded their political and economic influence in recent decades. © afp/dpa/

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