What legacy does Mahmoud Ahmadinejad leave for his successor, the “moderate” cleric Hassan Rouhani after eight years of controversial power?
(Graphic: Ciaran Hughes)
Mr Rouhani inherits a country beset by economic problems, and with a dubious international image of its human rights record.
However, that does not necessarily mean Ahmadinejad’s tenure has been wholly negative for Iran. As the graphic above shows, there have been positive changes.
Government expenditure on health has more than doubled during his presidency, and the same is true for the number of women in higher education.
But the human rights picture is bleak. More people in prison, more executions and more journalists in jail. So how has the country changed under Ahmadinejad?
Iran’s economy is struggling. Inflation is officially running at more than 30 per cent, more than double what it was in 2005, and Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost around 80 per cent of its value over the past year.
Candidates have been quick to criticise Ahmadinejad for his handling of the economy, though they would not be as quick to abandon Iran’s nuclear ambitions – the issue at the heart of the economic turmoil.
Repeated sanctions by the UN have had a crippling effect. According to Karim Sadjadpour from the Carnegie Institute for International Peace, the nuclear programme has lost Iran “well over $100bn in lost oil revenue and foreign investments.”
By all indicators, the human rights situation terribly deteriorated under Ahmadinejad’s presidency, reaching a crisis level after the disputed June 2009 election and continuing to this day. Hadi Ghaemi, International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran
The ultimate decision over nuclear strategy lies with Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
Oil exports are understood to have fallen by 40 per cent over 2012 due to the sanctions. The nuclear programme’s role in the success of Iran’s economy is also a reason why presidential candidate Saeed Jalili, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, was criticised by some of his rivals.
Candidates, including Mr Rouhani, himself a former chief nuclear negotiator, blamed Jalili’s tough stance for the failure of international nuclear talks, while it has also been mooted that Iran needs to develop an economy that is not dependent on oil revenues – thus freeing itself from the fear of sanctions.
It doesn’t naturally follow that the most pragmatic and moderate figure, Rouhani, will deliver a better outcome for western interests. Dr Christian Emery
Dr Christian Emery, a fellow in the international relations department at London School of Economics, says that Mr Rouhani is the favoured option for western diplomats.
“(He) has stressed that during his era (as chief negotiator) Iran’s nuclear program made progress without attracting harsh international sanctions or military threats.”
Dr Emery added that Rouhani had criticised the chief nuclear negotiater under Ahmadinejad, Saeed Jalili, who was a rival candidate for the presidency, over his failure to build confidence with the P5+1, the group of countries negotiating with Iran ober its nuclear programme. Jalili was also criticised for failing to offer more concessions in exchange for sanctions relief.
However, Dr Emery, the “moderate” leader does not mean that nuclear negotiations will now be easy.
“Assessing which candidate is most likely to improve Iran’s relationship with the international community is complicated and cannot be deduced by simply looking at their individual records or statements,” he said.
“It doesn’t naturally follow that the most pragmatic and moderate figure, Rouhani, will deliver a better outcome for western interests (if we define those narrowly on the nuclear issue) than more hard-line candidates such as Jalili.
“The political context, and Khamenei’s confidence in it, will be key.”
Iran’s economy has not always struggled during Ahmadinejad’s presidency. From 2005 to 2007, GDP growth increased from 4.6 per cent to 7.8 per cent, according to the World Bank, whilst inflation also feel in the first year of his presidency.
However, the UN sanctions on Iran’s nuclear programme, which began in 2006, have taken their toll.
The human rights situation in Iran cannot be expressed in numbers alone, though they do paint a picture. The number of executions carried out each year has rapidly risen under the president – peaking in 2009, the year of the post-election uprising.
The country’s prison population has risen from 145,000 to 217,000 over the past eight years, and the number of journalists in prison is more than three times higher.
According to Hadi Ghaemi, executive director of the New York-based International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran, “political dissidents, student activists, journalists, civil society activists, and religious and ethnic minorities have all suffered huge blows under eight years of Ahmadinejad’s presidency”.
Most human development indicators have improved noticeably based on the government’s efforts to increase access to education and health. World Bank Iran profile
He told Channel 4 News: “By all indicators, the human rights situation terribly deteriorated under Ahmadinejad’s presidency, reaching a crisis level after the disputed June 2009 election and continuing to this day.
“All human rights organizations have been shuttered and prominent lawyers working for them imprisoned. Student activists have been purged from universities and banned from higher education in hundreds.
“Cruel and inhumane punishments, such as flogging and amputations, have been implemented in large numbers and in public spaces. Freedom of assembly, expression, and association are pretty much non-existent.”
Mr Ghaemi says the reason for a crackdown on human rights was a reaction to the presidency of Ahmadinejad’s predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, a more moderate president who had created an “opening of the political and social space”.
And Mr Ghaemi said he is not confident the situation will improve under the new president, or indeed would have under any of the other candidates. “They (the candidates) are all loyal lieutenants of the supreme leader which is the reason they were selected to be on the ballot,” he said.
“Given that centres of power have decidedly and overwhelmingly shifted to intelligence and security apparatus of the regime, squarely under control of the supreme leader, I do not see any hope of loosening their grip and reversing the current repression, regardless of who is elected.”
Ahmadinejad has repeatedly denied human rights accusations, instead accusing other world leaders, specifically the US, of carrying out such violations.
In a speech in 2007 he said that “freedom is flowing at its highest level” in his country. “Our people are the freest people in the world, the most aware people in the world, the most enlightened.”
By regional standards, the World Bank says, the country’s social indicators were relatively high in the first half of Ahmadinejad’s presidency.
In its country profile, the World Bank says: “Most human development indicators have improved noticeably based on the government’s efforts to increase access to education and health.
“Virtually all children of the relevant age group were enrolled in primary schools in 2009 and enrollment in secondary schools increased from 66 percent in 1995 to 84 percent in 2009. As a result, youth literacy rates increased from 77 percent to 99 percent over the same period, rising significantly for girls.”
The number of under-five years old deaths in the country has fallen by a quarter, to 33,000, according to World Bank data. Health expenditure has increased and lif expectancy is more than a year longer.