The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

What to watch for in Iran’s presidential election

Suzanne Maloney-- Dr. Suzanne Maloney is a senior fellow for foreign policy at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Maloney, a former U.S. state department policy advisor, recently  published the book "Iran's long reach: Iran as pivotal state in the Muslim world." The views expressed are her own. --

Iranians go to the polls on June 12 in what is shaping up to be the most contentious ballot in the thirty years since the overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy and the establishment of the world’s first modern theocracy. The ballot will determine the political fate of Iran’s provocative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and more broadly will signal the future of the country’s volatile political course and the prospects for improvement in its long-troubled relationship with Washington.

Iranian politics have become intensely personalized, focused for better and for worse around Ahmadinejad, a remarkable development considering his prior inexperience in national politics and the relatively limited authority of Iran’s presidency. By inserting himself in all of Iran’s most contentious debates and by asserting himself both on the domestic and international stage, Ahmadinejad has emerged as the focal point of Iran’s contemporary political landscape. As a result, the vote will serve as a referendum on Ahmadinejad’s notorious personality and policies – a reality underscored by the thinly-veiled vitriol directed at the incumbent in recent weeks.

Coming on the heels of a change in American administrations and a shift in U.S. policy, Iran’s presidential campaign has also featured a remarkably frank discourse about engagement. While no election outcome will single-handedly transform Iran’s relationship with Washington – in part because Iran’s presidency is not its ultimate authority in any case – the conclusion of this week’s election will shape the outlook for diplomacy in ways that are unlikely to be straightforward. A change in leadership would strengthen the Obama Administration’s case for engagement, but could also revive the factional infighting that paralyzed Tehran during the reformist heyday. Conversely, a second Ahmadinejad term might bolster Tehran’s recalcitrance but also intensify the international community’s urgency for dealing with Iran.

What to Watch For