Almost overnight Hasan Rowhani has become a new beacon of hope for Iranian society. The new president will have a difficult time meeting people's high expectations, says DW's Jamsheed Faroughi.
Iranians love surprises. The state surprises society, society surprises the state, and both of them manage to surprise the international community. It happens over and over. Now it's happened again - with the Iranian presidential election.
Iran's Guardian Council excluded 99 percent of candidates from the election, in the hope of avoiding just such a surprise. In the end there were only six candidates on the ballot: the moderate Hasan Rowhani, and five conservatives. Prior to the election there was no clear favorite among the conservatives, and Rowhani was considered a relative unknown. Nearly everyone anticipated a run-off election between the two top candidates - presumably both conservatives.
Instead, Rowhani won the Iranian presidential election in the first round of voting. Counting the votes took longer than planned, and tension rose by the hour until the Interior Ministry officially announced the results. No one had expected Rowhani to win as decisively and suddenly as he did. How was this possible?
The social situation in Iran is abysmal. Daily life in the Islamic Republic is governed by high unemployment, rampant inflation, a stagnant economy, suffocating international sanctions, and much more. In addition, there are the political scars left behind by the crackdown on the protest movement after the last election in 2009. A situation like this cannot go on indefinitely. The people will inevitably express their deep dissatisfaction when the time comes to go to the polls. The result of Saturday's presidential election was a clear rejection of the conservatives' nuclear and foreign policies, as well as a clear defeat for Iran's religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
In the space of just a few weeks Hasan Rowhani has become a beacon of hope for the people, at a time when many thought that all hope was lost. From his first day in office he faces massive challenges that threaten Iran's very existence. First of all, he must quickly come up with a way to move the stalled nuclear talks forward. He needs to seek compromises and fundamentally change Iran's provocative and counterproductive foreign policy. This is the only way to achieve a de-escalation of the conflict and a relaxation of sanctions, which in turn would bring about an improvement in social conditions at home.
Secondly, he has to work towards a reconciliation with the Iranian people. This will only be possible by ending repressive measures against them, releasing political prisoners, lifting the house arrest on the reformers Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, and - last but not least - guaranteeing freedom of the press and free access to information.
A great deal is certainly expected of Rowhani: but we know that the road to achieving such goals is a long and bumpy one. When it comes to the most important issues, such as the nuclear conflict, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, always has the final say. And the conservatives still have the upper hand in parliament. Victory in the presidential election is only the first step. Iranians have often seen their great expectations turn into great disappointments. Right now, however, time is short, and another disappointment would come at a very high price.