Iran’s election, and forbidden enthusiasm toward the West

With 24 remaining before Iran’s presidential elections, Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei prohibited Iran’s six presidential candidates from looking outside Iran’s borders for economic development, in a public speech on April 25, 2017.

But that was exactly what was being discussed in Iran’s debates. None of the candidates are openly willing to turn toward the West. However, they expressed concern for the economic problems of the nation in a way that suggested engagement with the West would be inevitable.

Vice president Eshagh Jahangiri, one of the banned candidates, recently said: “Unemployment is a challenge cloud in Iran. The unemployment rate in some regions is up to 30 percent.” He added: “this rate for women sometimes is doubled.”

Despite his constant effort to show economic development records, President Hassan Rouhani made a strange comment this week: “I never promised to solve economic problems in 100 days, because Iran’s economic problems will not be fixed in another 100 years.”

Rouhani’s rival candidates during the elections are in favor of demolition of the current government.

 Ebrahim Raisi, Khamenei’s informal candidate, repeatedly complained of corruption in the administrative system. “If the government officials put their feet out of their rooms it becomes clear to them that only four percent of the society are satisfied with the status quo.“

Said the current mayor of Tehran, Hammad Bagher Ghalibaf, another candidate, voiced similar sentiment.

If elected, any of the candidates would be facing a Gordian knot in Iranian economics:

  • The bankruptcy of the banking system that many consider the most important economic challenge.
  • The bankruptcy of the government itself, which according to the minister of economy Ali Taiebnia, is indebted by more than $230 billion.
  • The long stagnation of the economy, with a 40 percent unemployment rate and ten million unemployed.
  • A close decision of the international body that oversees anti-money laundering (FATF) activities that is likely to include restrictions on financial transactions on banks exchanging with Iran.
  • Iran’s failure to attract foreign direct investment (FDI). According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), in last four years, foreign investment in Iran in each of these years was only about three billion dollars.
  • A heavy load of cash donations each month is paid to more than 70 million Iranians in subsidies.
  • The environmental crisis, especially the catastrophic water shortages.
  • To contain these crises, all of the factions are eager to have relations with the West: One faction thinks clear engagement with the West is necessary for the survival of the regime. Another thinks having relations with the West should be along with showing the teeth and nails, and taking strong positions.

Mohammad is an analyst in Iranian affairs and fellow at the Paris-based Middle East Research Foundation. He tweets at @economieIran


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