In the aftermath of Hassan Rouhani’s resounding victory in the presidential elections, and particularly as speculation simmers about who the president-elect will choose for his cabinet, the Iranian press has seen a tug-of-war between the reformists and the conservative Principlist camp over Rouhani’s identity. In spite of the wave of support he received from reformist voters and the endorsement of reformist icons like former president Mohammad Khatami, Rouhani has been careful to avoid publicly embracing the reformist front in his plans for a cabinet, instead committing to a moderate and non-partisan path.
This has led to praise for the president-elect in the conservative press, in spite of these outlet’s prior support for more conservative candidates in the election. In the hardline daily Kayhan, Mohammad Imani wrote that many Principlists who “are loyal to the principles and goals of the Islamic Revolution” rightly believe Rouhani to be a member of their own ranks, even if they may have voted for another candidate. Imani argues that Rouhani is principled and experienced, and while he has ties to reformists, he has stayed clear of the “seditionists” – meaning those who supported the Green Movement’s post-election protests in 2009. The reformism Rouhani is tied to, Imani argued, is hardly different from Principlism: “The truth is that the main line of division in the nation is not between the Principlists and the Reformists. What true Principlist can be opposed to reformism in the sense of changing and improving the current circumstances based on our principles?” Similarly, Mohammad Eskandari in the hardline Javan wrote that the “radical reformists” tied to the 2nd of Khordad movement associated with the Khatami presidency have tried to tie themselves to Rouhani to improve their own image in society after the upheaval of 2009, but have been rebuffed: “In recent days, reformist newspapers have also been trying to foist the title of reformist candidate on Rouhani, but the clear and definitive statements of the president-elect have been the final word in ending the project of ‘2nd Khordadizing’ the 11th presidency.”
Meanwhile, certain reformist writers have reacted derisively to conservatives’ claims that Rouhani is actually closer to the Principlists. In Etemaad, Mohammad Hossein Mehrzad wrote that conservatives such as Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari were disparaging Rouhani just days before the election, but that the Principlists are now trying to portray Rouhani as a “serious Principlist” to save face and share a sense of victory, as well as to seek good ties with the president-elect. Arguing that the vote for Rouhani was a reaction against 8 years of a presidency supported in both elections by the Principlists, he wrote that conservatives who have flip-flopped and embraced Rouhani should “keep a copy of their writings from today, so that if tomorrow they forget how they tried to tie the president of all the people to themselves, they can look back on their own words.”
However, some reformist-leaning commentators acknowledge that the reformists cannot and should not claim the president-elect exclusively as one of their own. Writing in the moderate daily Mardom-Salari, Mansour Farzami argued that it is wrong for the Principlists to claim Rouhani as one of their own, but on the other hand, “Rouhani is not a reformist in the strict definition of the word, as the reformists and the supporters of this movement did not join his campaign until his endorsement by the reformist leaders…” Thus, he wrote, it is pointless for Principlists or reformists to try to demand shares from a president-elect who has committed to a prudent, hopeful, and moderate path forward.
APPENDIX: Translated Summaries of Selected Opinion Pieces (Newest to Oldest)
Writing in the conservative Javan, Eskandari argues that while the popular vote for Rouhani, albeit unexpected during the campaign, was one for moderation, the radical fringe of the reformists has been incorrectly trying to co-opt the president-elect as a true member of its movement. “The radical 2nd of Khordad movement, which has been opposed by the masses since 2009, wished to portray Rouhani as the candidate of the reformists, even of the radical reformists, and thus prevent future isolation from the Iranian political sphere.”However, he proudly adds, the president himself has shown a steadfast refusal to claim allegiance to the reformist front, which speaks positively for him moving forward as the president of all Iranians: “In recent days, reformist newspapers have also been trying to foist the title of reformist candidate on Rouhani, but the clear and definitive statements of the president-elect have been the final word in ending the project of ‘2nd Khordadizing’ the 11th presidency.”
In the reformist daily Etemaad, Mehrzad writes that regardless of their views of him before the election, everyone, most notably Principlists, are trying to claim Rouhani as being one of their own. He opens, “These days the president-elect of Iran is witnessing everyone being a partner in his victory. From the most extremist Principlist to the most radical reformist, everyone wants to consider him, if not belonging to, at least tied to their group.” He writes that in spite of intense pre-election criticism from notable members of conservative Principlist factions like the Jame’e-ye Rohaniyat-e Mobarez, such figures are now praising Rouhani’s victory. He writes that if one were to erase the archives of conservative newspapers’ websites, it would be easy to forget how vociferously they supported candidates like Saeed Jalili, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, or Ali Akbar Velayati and dismissed Rouhani. He notes the severe warnings that Kayhan editor Hossein Shariatmadari gave just before the election, for example. Yet, with many Principlists now praising Rouhani as a “serious Principlist,” he writes, they should “keep a copy of their writings from today, so that if tomorrow they forget how they tried to tie the president of all the people to themselves, they can look back on their own words.” He adds that the Principlists should not forget that first and foremost, the vote for Rouhani was a reaction against a period of dominant Principlist rule that clashed with the popular will.
In the moderate/reformist daily Mardom-Salari, Farzami writes that it is true that Rouhani is not a Principlist, in spite of the post-election attempts by conservatives to say he belongs to their camp – but that it must also be remembered that he cannot fully be considered a member of the reformist camp and that all should refrain from trying to stake a unique claim to the president-elect. He writes, “Rouhani is not a reformist in the strict definition of the word, as the reformists and the supporters of this movement did not join his campaign until his endorsement by the reformist leaders…” Regardless, he argues, the debate over where Rouhani lies in the political spectrum is a fruitless and pointless one, as the nation benefits from having two vibrant political movements in it, and both have a common interest in Rouhani’s success. “Lets us not demand shares and instead let Rouhani be the person who ran on a platform of prudence and hope,” he argues.
In the reformist daily Arman, Ayatollah Hashemzadeh Herisi writes that the president-elect’s duty is to resist extremism and radicalism as Iran moves forward from a tense electoral campaign by setting an example of the moderateness and prudence that he espoused as principles during his campaign. “It is very good that he plans to build a non-partisan cabinet. This cabinet must be built upon decent people and these decent people also must seek these same qualities in choosing their deputies and associates.”
Mohammad Imani writes in the hardline Kayhan daily that Rouhani need not be claimed by one faction or another, as true reformists – not to be confused with the “seditionist, opportunistic, and law-breaking movements” who seized upon the 2009 election to challenge the Islamic Republic in street protests – want what is best for the country, just like Principlists do. Calling them “two sides of the same coin,” he argues, “There is no major distinction between the Principlists and the reformists,” and as this is the case, both sides can and must support and work with Rouhani. “The truth is that the main line of division in the nation is not between the Principlists and the Reformists. What true Principlist can be opposed to reformism in the sense of changing and improving the current circumstances based on our principles?” He also argues that Rouhani is well experienced, knows well who the true enemies of Iran are, has been approved by the Guardian Council, and has given assurances that he will not act in a way to displease Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. Thus, he says, while those who have claimed to be reformists while seeking to sow sedition are real enemies, Rouhani is not someone to be afraid of. In fact, he says, many Principlists who “are loyal to the principles and goals of the Islamic Revolution” rightly believe Rouhani to be a member of their own ranks, even if they may have voted for another candidate.