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Rouhani’s challenge (.hindu )

Iran’s President begins his second term in daunting circumstances at home and abroad

Hassan Rouhani has formally begun his second term as Iran’s President in especially challenging circumstances. Conservatives at home are pushing for a hard-line agenda, Sunni states in the Gulf are consolidating a regional alliance against Shia-majority Iran, and the U.S. is turning up the heat on the country’s missile programme. Mr. Rouhani, who won the election on a moderate platform, had drawn hope during his campaign that he would build on the momentum his first term had generated and initiate social reform. It was never going to be easy, given the resolve of the clerical establishment to push back any major attempt to change the status quo. In Iran’s complex, multipolar political system, the President runs the government with a popular mandate but the security establishment reports directly to the Supreme Leader, who can override the government on critical issues. What Mohammad Khatami tried and failed and what Mr. Rouhani tested during his first term was to gradually push pragmatic policies, overcoming the conservative opposition. Mr. Rouhani’s decision to go ahead with the nuclear deal despite concerns from the establishment was an example of his successful brinkmanship. The expectation was that in his second term, Mr. Rouhani would expand the reform agenda into domestic politics. The reformists have many demands.

However, one of the first decisions Mr. Rouhani has taken in the new term raises questions about his resolve to initiate meaningful reforms. On Tuesday, he nominated an all-men cabinet, which needs to be approved by Parliament. The chances of women nominees getting through the parliamentary process were high this time given that reformists and moderates make up a majority in the Majlis. Still, Mr. Rouhani preferred not to take the risk of antagonising conservatives. To be sure, these are hard times for a moderate President in Iran. The nuclear deal, the signature achievement of Mr. Rouhani’s first term, is under attack, with U.S. President Donald Trump threatening to cancel its certification. With the U.S. imposing more sanctions on Iran over the missile programme and joining hands with its regional rivals such as Saudi Arabia, conservative sections find their hard-line views vindicated and would like Tehran to reciprocate in the same tenor. Mr. Rouhani may therefore have preferred to avoid a clash within the system over his cabinet nominations. It is not clear to what extent he may sacrifice the reformist agenda under pressure from hardliners. His supporters will hope that he will come around to simultaneously pursuing a pragmatic reformist agenda at home and a realistic foreign policy that doesn’t succumb to external provocations. Only then would Hassan Rouhani live up to the expectations of the millions of Iranians who re-elected him.

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