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Masud Pezeshkian returns the Iranian Presidency to reformism twenty years later

The ninth Iranian president sets himself the goal of convincing the population of his air of renewal under the watchful eye of the clerical establishment

Masud Pezeshkian, a 69-year-old doctor with an Azeri father and a Kurdish mother, became this Saturday the ninth president of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the first head of the reformist government for the first time in two decades, since Mohamad Khatami, breaking a trend of three conservative leaders, after a campaign in which they have defended certain opening-up measures as a breath of air after the most forceful social protests since the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and the disaffection reigning in the Iranian population since then.

Pezeskhian comes to power after elections marked, as always, by the extraordinary performance of the Guardian Council, the body representing the clerical establishment and the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has carefully screened the presidential candidates to to ensure that candidates with a marked anti-system tendency do not participate, hence Pezeshkian, as he has already ventured in his first statements after winning the elections, has set himself as one of his first objectives to convince the population of his renewing and appeasing spirit.

“We are all part of this country, so we have to turn to everyone for this country to progress,” he said in statements reported by Iranian state television, after ensuring that his new government “will reach out to everyone.” of friendship.”

It should be noted, for example, that Pezeskhian has campaigned in favor of Internet freedom and the relaxation of strict measures on the imposition of the veil on women, the latter an extraordinarily sensitive issue since the death in custody in 2022 of the young Kurdish-Iranian Mahsa Amini, supposedly for wearing her clothing incorrectly. Amini’s death, which the authorities attributed to a health problem, unleashed a wave of demonstrations that were harshly repressed by security forces who blamed them on the covert participation of “troublemakers” paid by the West. Hundreds of people died during these mobilizations.

“The Government should not intervene in the hijab issue,” the former Health Minister declared last week. “It is a cultural and rational issue,” he added, “and if we tell the Police and the Judiciary to solve the problem, we are going to create even more problems,” he added.

In fact, during these mobilizations, considered one of the greatest challenges to the clerical establishment since 1979, he went so far as to affirm that the authorities were responsible for the situation. “It’s our fault. We want to apply religious faith through the use of force. That is scientifically impossible,” he said.

Pezeshkian has been in politics for more than 20 years, which he entered after participating in the war with Iraq (1980-1988) and after directing the Tabriz University of Medical Sciences in the nineties. Thus, in 2000 he became vice minister of Health during the Presidency, precisely, of the reformist Jatami, who a year later appointed him as head of the portfolio. Subsequently, he joined Parliament in 2008, a body of which he became vice president between 2016 and 2020.

The new president began to be known at that time for his critical stance towards the harsh repression against the Green Movement after the 2009 presidential elections, in which the opposition denounced fraud to favor the re-election of the conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

On this occasion, Pezeshkian has won after being the only reformist to pass the initial cut of the Guardian Council, which has led him to gather important support in this political spectrum, especially two: that of former president Hassan Rohani, who held the position between 2013 and 2021, when he was replaced by Raisi and, above all, that of former Foreign Minister Mohamad Javad Zarif, who reached the Iran nuclear deal in 2015 with world powers that saw sanctions lifted in exchange for the program atomic would be drastically reduced.

Since the confirmation of his candidacy, he has reiterated his support for the principles of the Islamic Republic and has advocated respecting the lines set by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who, however, during the campaign for the first round was veiled critical of the reformist and encouraged the vote for conservative candidates, disintegrated on several fronts; a first round marked by historic lows of 40 percent participation — Zarif wrote an unusual message on his X social network account to apologize for the disaffection generated among the population — although the second round has risen to 49.8 percent.

In fact, Pezeshkian himself acknowledged that the “background noise” of his verbal clashes with his great electoral rival, the ultraconservative and also former Iranian nuclear negotiator Saed Jalili, has ended up distancing the Iranian people from the candidates. “Sixty percent don’t accept us. People have problems with us,” he said after one of the debates ahead of the second round.

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