Iran’s 2017 Election: Waning Democratic Hopes

Issue Date October 2017
Volume 28
Issue 4
Page Numbers 38-45
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Contrary to the international media’s accounts of a victory for “reform,” Iran’s 2017 presidential election—won by incumbent Hassan Rouhani—reflected the demoralization of the prodemocratic opposition. Since the late 1990s, the ruling oligarchy has comprised three factions: “reformists,” “realists,” and “principlists.” The failure of reformism under Mohammad Khatami (1997–2005) and violent repression of the “Green Wave” movement in 2009 left reform supporters with a choice between outright opposition, or shelving their democratic demands to rally behind the realists—those who, like Rouhani, offer to expand social and cultural freedom while reducing international confrontation, but reject any political opening. After relentless state persecution, rights activists had lowered their sights by the 2017 race. A boycott campaign had little impact. In the face of relative setbacks for liberal democracy worldwide, fear has caused the Iranian public to see democracy as a luxury that is too costly to afford.