Kim Sengupta strikes a cautionary note in ‘A vote for reform’ (Asian Affairs, June issue) and is right to do so. Although there are reasons to be cheerful about the Iranian people’s desire to re-elect a reformist leader who is promising greater social freedoms and a more open relationship with the West, President Rouhani’s actual record on reform and human rights is not that impressive, leading one to question how much power he really has.
It should also be remembered that Rouhani’s conservative rival Ebrahim Raisi was defeated but not crushed in the poll – he still won 16 million votes and has the backing of hardliners. In addition, the contest over who will be the next Supreme Leader still lies ahead, and the current hardline Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is 77, will want to preserve his legacy after his death. It is said that he tacitly backed Raisi as president and may even have regarded him as his successor; and, while he praised the ‘massive and epic’ turnout of Iranian voters, his congratulations to Rouhani were notable by their absence.
President Rouhani has got an unenviably tough job on his hands: trying to fulfil his reformist agenda, increase foreign investment and reduce unemployment, at the same time as not completely alienating the religious hardliners, whom I believe wield the real power in Iran and whose cause will no doubt be helped by President Trump’s anti-Iran rhetoric, just as hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was helped by that of George W. Bush.
The debate must go on…
I was not able to attend the recent Democracy Forum seminar at Senate House on the subject of Brexit’s impact on Asia and the Commonwealth, but read Asian Affairs’ article on it, as glad to see that public debate on Brexit’s repercussions is ongoing as I was interested to read some of the panellists’ informative views. As a defeated ‘Remoaner’, I have accepted the decision but still reserve the right to express my disagreement and fears without being castigated as elitist or unpatriotic (both of which I have been called – I am a nurse). It seems that these days, public debate is being hampered due to claims that the argument is over since the vote has been won. But we need to keep talking about this issue so that those in charge of negotiating Brexit are held to account in a way the ‘Leave’ side (in particular) did not appear to be during the campaign.
Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex
Moonlight at the end of the tunnel?
Koreans worldwide were cheered by the election of Moon Jae-in, as detailed in David McNeill’s article ‘A new Moon rises’. As Dr McNeill says, Moon has a struggle on his hands, like his more progressive predecessors, to tackle tough domestic problems, end corruption and nepotism and face down provocations from North Korea. However, he is showing real enthusiasm for greater engagement with the North and there is hope that he can develop some kind of understanding with President Trump, who is, as Moon said in a Washington Post interview, ‘on the same page’ as him, and ‘more reasonable’ than people think.
…but don’t knock Brexit till you’ve tried it
I enjoyed the articles in your latest issue that focussed largely on Brexit, but have to question the generally gloomy tone. There may be short-term difficulties ahead following Brexit but I for one will be happy to see our small country no longer dominated by giant banks and corporations, as shown by the crash of 2008, when EU member states allowed their workers to pay for the mess created by big business. Let’s free ourselves from the EU’s rule by the 1 per cent and then take on our own economic elite, so that we can try to bring about real social democracy and a fairer society.