Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani urged Iranian voters not to let the progress achieved in his role be gone, warning that they could face greater authoritarianism if they replace him with a hardline rival in May’s election.
Iran made a historic nuclear deal with P5+1 powers in 2015, in which Tehran agreed to amend its nuclear output in order to lift all nuclear-related economic sanctions, freeing up tens of billions of dollars in oil revenue and frozen assets.
After lifting the sanctions, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani visited Europe and made deals that worth billions of dollars. European companies started looking for investment opportunities in the growing Iranian market.
Rouhani won the presidency in 2013 with the backing of mainly of young people and women. He promised to bring Iran out of its international isolation and create a freer society.
But many ordinary Iranians have lost faith in him because he has not been able to improve the economy despite the lifting of sanctions in January last year under the nuclear deal.
In addition, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and his hardline loyalists, have criticized Rouhani’s policy of rapprochement with the West, arguing the 2015 nuclear accord had not yielded the benefits he promised.
Doubts have been cast on whether Hassan Rouhani will be capable of pulling off a victory as he is facing escalating criticizing from his rivals, the hardliners, who have nominated various figured to run for the presidency.
Extremism and injustice days are gone
In a speech delivered three weeks ahead of Iran’s presidential elections, Rouhani underlined the influence of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), without naming it, on the Iranian economy and the private sector in particular, which has driven foreign investors out.
“How can we think of productivity while the economic atmosphere is not competitive,” the president asked.
“We should not disappoint employers and intimidate investors,” Rouhani warned, according to ILNA news agency.
Rouhani also called for preserving the “path of moderation” to overcome current challenges, noting: “Extremism and violence did not lead to happiness in any country.”
“We will not let them bring the security and police atmosphere back to the country,” Rouhani told a rally in the city of Yazd, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
“Iranians will prove to the world at the May 19 election that the era of violence, extremism, and pressures in our country is over and Iran is pursuing the path of reason.”
The outgoing president’s comments came in contradiction with the stance of Iran’s Religious Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has called on the six presidential candidates not to rely on foreign investment to revive the country’s economy.
“We can attract 140 billion dollars of investment that can help to tackle unemployment,” Rouhani stated.
Defending his presidential record, Rouhani said: “The living standards of Iranians have improved … incomes of pensioners and those on welfare support have increased in the past four years.”
He added that he took five urgent measures to pull Iran back from the edge of an abyss: resuming nuclear negotiations to “break the siege on Iran”, taming the rampant inflation, overcoming economic stagnation, enhancing people’s purchasing power and normalizing Iran’s relations with the international community.
Rouhani still retains considerable support, especially among Iran’s large bloc of young, urban voters attracted to his vision of greater social freedoms and an end to Islamic clerical interference in their personal lives, analysts say.
However, human rights activists say his administration has achieved little on personal freedoms or freeing political prisoners and has been more focused on reducing Iran’s international isolation.
Rouhani said in a televised speech that “freedom is the most important issue for the Iranians” and that he had ordered the intelligence ministry not to “interfere in people’s privacy”.