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In honor of the Iranian people who once again were denied free and fair elections, the Freedom Collection blog is highlighting Iran this week. We have asked a number of leaders in the democracy promotion community to answer the following questions:


Where is Iran on its path toward liberalization? And is the demise of the clerical regime a necessary prerequisite for democratization?


We will be posting responses throughout the week.


The June 14 election of Hassan Rowhani offers an important opportunity for Iran to pivot from international isolation toward reintegration with the international community.  But pivoting from a theocracy to democracy will be a longer term challenge.


The Iranian people made a bold choice by picking the most “progressive” candidate.  In the words of one Iranian expatriate, who wishes to remain anonymous, “Iranians picked the least bad option.”  For the moment, the important fact for Iranians is that they appear to have voted for their new leader in large numbers.


Rowhani distinguished himself during a June 7 nationally televised debate as having a different vision for the country by calling for civil rights, moderation and justice.  The next week, he was quoted saying: “What I truly wish is for moderation to return to the country. This is my only wish. Extremism pains me greatly.”  Rowhani’s statements were enough for voters to rally behind him and produce a first-round victory with 50.71 percent of the vote.


The 2013 Iranian election was not a movement toward liberalization by any democratic standards.  The candidate nominating process was closed, and the campaign was a closely orchestrated affair, including the televised debate that brought national attention to the president-elect.  There were no election monitors or checks on the vote-counting process.


Against this unlikely backdrop, the Iranian people, who have suffered deeply for the actions of their previous leaders, chose a different direction from the one pursued by outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  As such, the election outcome, if not the election itself, deserves applause from the international community.  The onus is now on President-elect Rowhani to fulfill the desires of his electorate.


The next steps in the march for freedom in Iran will help dictate democracy’s future there.  Iran’s clerical regime is an ocean apart from liberal democracy, but President-elect Rowhani’s words and the message Iranians sent at the ballot box give hope that this is a step toward democratic reform that could be consolidated by breaking the clerical regime’s stranglehold on power.


M.C. Andrews is a special contributor to the Freedom Collection blog. M.C. is the senior advisor for communications, management and international affairs for Vianovo L.P.  Andrews was Special Assistant to the President for Global Communications (2003-2005) and Democracy Director on the National Security Council staff (2001-2003).

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