The success of Hassan Rouhani as the incoming President was hailed with joy from people across the board in Iran. Largely seen to be a moderate, having pledged to engage more with world powers in hopes of easing crippling economic sanctions faced by a hard-line Iran. It is being hoped from various quarters that he will be able to bring Iran closer to Western powers allaying their fears about his country’s nuclear programme.A look at how the presidential elections in Iran are held will offer good insight into what is in store. In order to contest for the presidential elections, prospective candidates must register themselves with the Interior Ministry. Anyone can “apply”. Interestingly, Iran’s constitution refers to a President in male gender, interpreted as prohibiting a woman to run for the office. The ruling clerics screen the applicants and may approve or reject applications as per their discretion. They are headed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. What does the process signify? First, the candidates are pre-screened before democratic elections take place, thereby making a pre-election choice as to who is a suitable candidate and who is not. Two, candidates close to the ruling clerics in line with existing ideology will be acceptable as opposed to one radically opposed. Three, the ruling policies like Iran’s nuclear programme, military projects and foreign policy outlining relationship with the West do not fall within the authority of the President. These are determined by the ruling clerics - President being the front-man for them. This does not mean that the President is completely powerless. Economic policies and coordinating with Khamenei in order to strategise upon other sensitive issues and form policies is a part of his responsibilities.In elections 2013, more than 680 candidates applied for the position. Eight candidates were allowed to contest by the Guardian Council, responsible for vetting the presidential candidates and Parliament members based on their loyalty to the Islamic system. Eight candidates were cleared by the Council to go to polls for the position. Rouhani won a decisive victory. Who is Rouhani? What exactly is Rouhani expected to achieve? A former nuclear negotiator, he is very close to the ruling cleric. Those watching Iran closely hope that he will clamp down upon the country’s nuclear programme. It is difficult to determine how this can be achieved, as Iran has always denied the charge stating that its uranium enrichment programme is for medical purposes and generating electricity (Reuters United Nations. October 5, 2012). Will change of faces at the Iran presidency change the claim on an ongoing policy for production of a nuclear bomb, if there is one? It is difficult to perceive that a change in the stance and consequently, a fast-forward change in relationship with the West will take place anytime soon. Neither will Iran stop supporting Syria’s regime. As a matter of fact, Iran has committed to dispatch a force of 4,000 troops to help President Assad fight the rebels. These issues are decided upon by Khamenei himself. He has, however, assured the West many times that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons. Iran is also an active member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). The Iranian Ambassador to UN nuclear agency, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, stated: “Iran was fully committed to the NPT and regarded the IAEA as the only authority that had jurisdiction to verify nuclear activities of member states” (Tehran Times, April 29, 2013).Hypothetically discussing the possibility of a nuclear Iran, should the country change its stance, John Mueller says: “Indeed, as strategist (and Nobel laureate) Thomas Schelling suggests, deterrence is about the only value the weapons might have for Iran.” He suggests a non-hysterical approach to the issue, suggesting that false nuclear fears cloud the West's judgment (The Guardian, February 16, 2012).To think that Rouhani will support policies radically different to those being followed during the time of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will be completely unrealistic. In his ill stitched suits and cheap ‘topi’ (cap), Ahmadinejad drew the admiration of many around the world and in his own country for not bowing to any external pressure. At the same time, the hard-line policies that were followed, led the United Nations and the West imposed several rounds of sanctions against Iran. He provoked, he drew ire, with each barb building upon his public persona. He was like a kid on a stage and loving it every second!Ahmadinejad, over time had developed an ‘icky’ relationship with the West during his eight years in office, going as far as writing an 18-page letter to President George W Bush (the letter went unanswered).The West and Iran seemed to be caught up in a ‘cycle’ that led to one reacting against the other with Ahmadinejad as President. The best that can be hoped for, with incoming Rouhani, a smooth talker, will be a tapering off to the constant irritants that were present in a rocky relationship. In absence of these irritants, countries may be more forthcoming in discussing issues positively and without taking pre-determined diplomatic postures. Rouhani has often been critical of the former President whom, he felt, had unnecessarily isolated Iran from the international comity of nations, having antagonised more than not. However, the West will be well advised to base their fears of having to deal with a nuclear Iran in light of practical ground realities. Nothing drastic is about to happen, Rouhani’s smoothness notwithstanding. No major policies in near future will undergo a change. The West will watch.So will the world!

The writer is a lawyer, academic and political analyst. She has authored a book titled “A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan”.