Why and how did Rouhani win?


Bymajid mohammadi

Electoral engineering and the persuasion of election boycotters to vote

There are many important questions that have arisen after the announcement of Rouhani’s victory of a second term in Iran. Why/how did reformist Rouhani win and why/how did hardline fundamentalist Ebrahem Raisi lose the election? How did the Rouhani’s government achieve this victory, even though they failed to deliver on most of their campaign promises during the first term? How did Rouhani still manage this win despite being accused of forging his doctoral thesis? Fundamentalist institutions supervised by reformist Rouhani actively sought to prevent him from winning a second term. Also, Rouhani was not remotely successful during his first and second 2017 presidential debates. If this was not enough to cast doubt towards Rouhani’s success in the 2017 election, over the course of his first term, various segments of Iranian society expressed consistent dissatisfaction with the current situation in the country: 20 million people are in slums, 2/3 of the population live below the poverty line, a variety of environmental crises persist, the number of displaced persons is increasing, and an economic recession has left 6 million unemployed.
To answer these questions, we must address two issues: mutual electoral engineering and manipulating young voters boycotting the elections.
» Political Learning Process
Four decades have passed since the rise of an Iranian regime, which utilizes this kind of electoral engineering process. This is not limited to the Revolutionary Guard and the House of the Guide. In the 1990s, institutions supervised by the supreme leader (the security, military, media, and judiciary) were the main forces leading processes involved in electoral engineering. Coinciding with the election of fundamentalist Ahmadinejad to the presidency in 2005, the government also began to engage in this game, especially with the aim of continuing Ahmadinejad’s presidency to encompass a second term. The reformist Rouhani government seems now to have successfully replicated Ahmadinejad’s strategy, which has extended Rouhani’s presidency into its second term with the 2017 elections.
» Parallel Engineering
The existence of election engineering brought about protest from reformists and moderates in the 1990s and then again in the first decade of the 21st century. When the government saw that these protests were proving futile, they moved forward in expanding their methods of engineering elections. For this 2017 election, the media close to the Revolutionary Guard and the House of the Guide Ali Khamenei (State Radio & Television, the Kayhan & Javan newspapers, the Tasnim & Faris news agencies) made consistent and continuous efforts to promote Ebrahem Raisi and Qalibaf, while the government controlled media (Iranian and other semi-governmental newspapers) were tirelessly promoting the Rouhani government.
Reformist Rouhani’s methods in the 2017 election have, in many ways, sought to replicate the successful methods practiced by fundamentalist Ahmadinejad during his reign. Back during the 2009 presidential elections, Rouhani and Khatami civilly supported their reformist rivals in a show of relative fairness and unity. However, this practice proved ineffective at the time, as fundamentalist Ahmadinejad won the election using dishonesty and fraud. When reformists rose up in protest of the frauds committed by the fundamentalists, their voices were suppressed. So during the 2017 elections, the reformist chose to play dirty just as the fundamentalists had done previously. In this way, reformist Rouhani was able to secure a win in the 2017 elections.
In previous years, pro-fundamentalist militia forces called the “Basij” and Iranian security forces donned civilian clothes while they went from city to city tearing up reformist electoral signs. But in the 2017 election, the electoral signs in Isfahan city of fundamentalist Ebrahem Raisi were also burned. Raisi’s campaign has also alleged there to be a suspicious lack of ballots cast at a number of polling stations in Mashhad city. If perpetrated by pro-Rouhani groups, then these actions could be considered as one of the voting engineering techniques carried out by the reformist Rouhani government.
In an attempt to bolster his chances at securing the 2009 election, Ahmadinejad also made a large number of visits to provinces in the few days before the election. In the beginning of his 2017 campaign, Rouhani did not make many visits to the provinces, but intensified his visits to the provinces just two months before the elections.
In 2017, the reformist Rouhani government attempted to distract the people from the plethora of regime failures and broken promises by suddenly paying farmers’ late salaries, providing financial support to the people from health care organizations & relief committees, increasing salaries of retirees & government employees, and proving some resources to those without any financial support. These sweeping improvements to people’s living situations gave the illusion of a successful Rouhani regime and seemed to have played a part in boosting votes garnered during the 2017 elections. Not surprisingly, Ahmadinejad’s fundamentalist government adopted these same tactics in 2008 and 2009, and were accused by their reformist opponents of manipulating the elections.
» Another Fall
Reformist President Rouhani, in his 2017 campaign, adopted almost all the methods successfully practiced in the 2009 elections by his predecessor, fundamentalist Ahmadinejad. Ahmadinejad’s practices had previously provoked protests by reformists who considered his methods to be hallmarks of electoral fraud. However, in 2017, the same reformists who cried in outrage at fundamentalist Ahmadinejad’s electoral practices exactly replicated these policies in order to secure their tainted victory. Though Rouhani’s government has insisted all their electoral actions were taken in order to advance democratic plans to develop Iranian Civil society, we can now see sinister discontinuity between their claims and their intent.
How to deal with those who boycotted the election
Rouhani’s campaign was aware that he would not be able to comfortably ensure a second term by assuming he would get the same 18 million (51%) votes that had won him his first term. Due to widespread discontent, there was a real fear that even these numbers may even decrease. Therefore, Rouhani felt that he needed to secure more votes – specifically from those dissatisfied with their living situations and those who were boycotting the last.
» The election boycotters in 2017 listed eight reasons for not participating in the elections:
1. It has taken two decades to realize that the regime is irreparable, that Khatami’s experience has failed, and that Rouhani’s first presidential term is the best proof.
2. The political process does not allow enough space for an assembly where citizens can make reasonable demands and present problems. The framework set by the regime is an insult to the community, as it does not give them proper space to vocalize their needs. When one of the main people in a position of governmental power has a security background and the other is an executioner judge, participation in these elections leads to a state where criminality is normalized and societal repression becomes rampant.
3. Elections are being engineered at all stages in Iran. Voters cannot be sure that their votes are counted properly because the elections in the Islamic Republic are neither free nor competitive – not fair nor valued.
4. Each candidate is indeed different from the other, but the differences between candidates is similar to either death by drugs, gunshot, or guillotine; these minor discrepancies do not affect the end result, which winds up rather the same regardless of who wins. The Islamic Republic of Iran is dragging the society into collapse, and voters want to slow the pace of this collapse only.
5. The head of the executive branch in Iran has no real authority. Their leader Ali Khamenei is the architect of sensitive policies in international relations and domestic and economic policies. The title “President of the Republic” is a beautiful title for the staff working beneath supreme leader Ali Khamenei.
6. The 2017 elections focused on candidates’ stances regarding economic and living conditions, though none of these candidates could make a real difference in these sectors. The difference between Rouhani and Raisi is only about who the winner is and who the beneficiary is. The electoral competition is limited to deciding who will regulate the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards. It is not really a competition between those who support the disadvantaged and those who support the wealthy. Neither candidate will benefit the disadvantaged, and neither really intended to.
7. Rouhani’s performance cannot be defended in the last four years of his first term. He has not met the minimum popular demands of the people. The period of his first term has seen an increase in the number of displaced persons & those leaving school, a deterioration in Iran’s environmental condition, and a rise in poverty rates. The massive signing of the Iranian nuclear agreement would have been achieved even without Rouhani’s presence because it is intrinsically linked to the survival of the Iranian regime as a whole.
8. The elections have not focused on a thorough discussion of candidates’ campaign promises in any real way since Ahmadinejad’s presidency – only the faces and personalities of the candidates are highlighted. Changing faces does not change policies and plans.
Despite this, millions of voters, who knew these reasons and claimed they did not wish to vote in the 2017 elections, went to the polls and cast their ballots anyway. The Rouhani electoral campaign was able to garner the majority of the votes from those who initially boycotted the elections.
» They achieved this by resorting to the following tactics:
1. fixating on the criminal practices of the regime during the past 38 years (using the terms of death and imprisonment multiple times in a variety of ways), but then also limiting disclosures about the criminality of the regime in front of crowds who could not relate to such claims directly.
2. Bypassing the red lines drawn by Ali Khamenei (referring to the specter of war before the nuclear agreement and providing misinformation to Khamenei), thus easing the objections of young people.
3. Making the fundamentalists out to be the main supporters of repression and terrorism, thereby creating widespread derision towards them.
4. creating an atmosphere of joy and celebration during in the election conferences (even through the use of DJs).
It should be noted that all these policies will not contribute to any real improvement of situations in the country because Rouhani and his companions were the primary perpetrators contributing to the creation of such conditions and also, even the Rouhani government does not have power to exceed certain regime red lines.
If we look at the outcome of the 2017 elections from a perspective based on feelings and emotions, the election feels unfair and corrupt to begin with. If viewed from a rational perspective, we see that the election of Rouhani for a second term has only perhaps delayed the collapse of Iranian society temporarily. The destruction of the environment, increase in crime, rising poverty, drop outs in school, prevalent addiction problems, and a plethora of other social issues all point towards Iranian society’s decay. However, the disgruntled public and current critics have voted for this candidate, and perhaps they truly believe his election will not make things worse.
» Why did Raisi lose the election?
The campaigns of the main candidates in the 2017 elections are mere replications of the campaign tactics used by candidates from back when President Ahmadinejad won. They remind us of one persistent reality: any promises made my candidates to improve living conditions will not actually be followed through with in any meaningful way. Even if these promises are somewhat implemented, there is little chance of them having any real affect at improving rapidly deteriorating qualities of life for disadvantaged Iranians. The misuse of power by officials and candidates, in addition to raising tension between Iran and the rest of the world due to issues with the nuclear program, have causes grave consequences in the form of sanctions. Populist tendencies do not always work, especially if the populists’ true motivations and intentions are quickly exposed. The Iranian people seem to so swiftly forget the rampant record of regime corruption which has wasted 700 billion dollars’ worth of oil revenues.
Rouhani’s presidential campaign has been a success in social media, election debates, and due to a major campaign, which was promoted through religious institutions. During their 2017 presidential campaigning, the two candidates, reformist Rouhani and fundamentalist Raisi, ran on their strengths and capabilities. Rouhani’s campaign worked to popularize news of their campaign more through social networks, but managed to get just as great amount of publicity as Raisi, who used official radio and television programming for their campaign propaganda.
» Another captain of the ship?
In this case, can you see the light at the end of the Rouhani tunnel? These elections, like those that have previously taken place in the Islamic Republic, will not bring about a leader who will create any transition into a democratic society, the establishment of a democracy, or a reduction of Iran’s societal problems. These campaigns have not laid any real groundwork for the future of Iran. Candidates, including Rouhani, do not have a future in the improvement of condition in Iran, nor do they realistically intend to strive for it. Instead of eliminating the waste of money, corruption, and interference in the affairs of other countries by the hardline fundamentalist Ebrahem Raisi, the so-called moderate reformist Rouhani government will do all the very same things instead. Two sides of the same coin changes nothing.

majid mohammadi
majid mohammadi
Non-resident researcher at Rasanah IIIS.