Given the cultural makeup of the Islamic Republic, the eruption of wild street celebrations after the country’s interior ministry, which supervises election in the country announced the results, attested the fairness and of the election, in contrast to the last one four years ago that was marked with bloodshed and a reformist presidential candidate in jail.
Rouhani won by a convincing margin, with over 51 per cent of the valid votes cast, beating his rivals, including Iran’s head of the negotiating team with the West on the country’s nuclear programme, Mr Saeed Jalili, by wide margins, effectively avoiding a runoff.
Rouhani was an accidental contender in the electoral race. The country’s Guardian Council, a committee of clerics and lawyers, half of them appointed by the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had disqualified a former speaker of parliament and Mr Rohani’s ally, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, creating the void in the reformists’ rank that Rouhani, with the blessing the Council, filled and coasted to victory.
Considering the intensity of the interests, both within and outside, in the outcome of the election, the description of it by former President Mohammad Khatami as the most democratic in the world is no hyperbole; it contains some grains of truth.
International, particularly the West’s, response to it has been typical, although this time tinged with some hope that Iran’s nuclear programme, of which the West is suspicious as a covert nuclear weapons’ effort, would be scaled back, if not halted under a reformist government, than under the ‘hard line’ one that Ahmedinejad symbolised.
Rouhani has himself said that the nuclear programme would go on, although there would be more engagement with other countries that may feel threatened by it.
Iran is an important trading partner of Nigeria’s; it was important that President Goodluck Jonathan has hailed the elections and congratulated Mr Rouhani on his victory. Iran is a member of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), that also includes Nigeria, and is a founding member of the developing but economically strong BRICS countries (Brazil, India, China and South Africa), to which is an aspiring member.
Such ties are strong, and include oil and gas, engineering, technology. As prominent and fellow members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), there are lots of avenues for both countries to forge even stronger ties, irrespective of the international politics that seeks to drive a wedge between them.
In 2010, Israel expressed some concern about what it claimed was the growing influence of Iran in Nigeria in particular and Africa in general. Even the United States, Israel’s principal partner, in the past warned the authorities in Nigeria over continued overtures from Iran to help Nigeria’s nuclear ambitions, which at that were small talks of deploying such resource to expand the power needs of Nigeria.
Such efforts to score some diplomatic coups against perceived enemies on other countries’ turf are common; however, joining in the fray on the side of one or the other could be destabilising and counterproductive.
That is why Nigeria and Iran have more to gain by strengthening their economic ties than in seeking to moderate such relations in terms of bloc partnerships. Mr Rouhani’s election presents a welcome opportunity to do just that.