Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rival is Iran's new president
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sees his rival Hasan Rowhani elected as president of Iran. Is the political career of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over?
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The decision cemented Rowhani's reputation as a moderate who rejected Ahmadinejad's combative approach in world affairs in favor of the more nuanced philosophy of Ahmadinejad's leading political foe, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.
Rafsanjani was rejected by Iran's election guardians from Friday's presidential ballot. But for many reformists and liberals in Iran, the 64-year-old Rowhani is somewhat of a mirror image of the elder Rafsanjani by reflecting his outlook that Iran can maintain its nuclear program and ease tensions with the West at the same time.
Rowhani won a resounding first-round victory on Saturday.
"Rafsanjani was really the only choice to re-energize reformists," said Rasool Nafisi, an Iranian affairs analyst at Strayer University in Virginia. "Rowhani only got their support because he is seen as Rafsanjani's man and a vote for Rowhani was a vote for Rafsanjani."
This deep connection between the two men could give a Rowhani presidency a dual nature: Rowhani as the public face and Rafsanjani behind the scenes as its powerful godfather and protector.
Although all key policies such the nuclear program are directed by the ruling clerics, the alliance with Rafsanjani may give Rowhani more latitude to put his stamp on Iran's negotiation tactics with world powers after four rounds of talks since last year have failed to make any significant headway.
At campaign rallies, Rowhani has pledged to seek "constructive interaction with the world" that includes efforts to ease Western concerns about Iran's program and lift punishing international sanctions that have pummeled the economy. The West and its allies fear Iran could be moving toward development of a nuclear weapon. Iranian officials, including Rowhani, insist that the country only seeks nuclear reactors for energy and medical applications.
"We won't let the past eight years be continued," Rowhani told a cheering crowd last week in a clear reference to Ahmadinejad's back-to-back terms. "They brought sanctions for the country. Yet, they are proud of it. I'll pursue a policy of reconciliation and peace. We will also reconcile with the world."
Rowhani — the only cleric in the six-candidate presidential field — started religious studies at a teenager. He soon established himself as an outspoken opponent of the Western-backed shah, traveling frequently for anti-monarchy speeches and sermons that caught the attention of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the eventual leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.