Rouhani’s Economic Record

The Role It Will Play in Iran’s Presidential Election

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations in New York, September 2016. Eduardo Munoz / REUTERS

Iran will hold a presidential election in less than three weeks. The six candidates approved on April 20 by the country’s Guardian Council will likely center their campaigns on what matters most to voters: the Iranian economy, and especially its performance since the completion of the July 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who is running for a second term, is the man to beat on May 19. His opponents will likely zero in on the economy’s mixed performance since the signing of the nuclear deal, appealing to the many Iranians disappointed with the dividends that the agreement has paid so far. Iran has made some economic progress under Rouhani, but the unemployment rate is higher than it was a year ago, and foreign investors are still wary of doing business in the country. To win, Rouhani will have to defend this uneven record. So the president has been broadcasting his economic successes and appealing to voters who have not benefited from them.


The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the nuclear deal is formally known, is the flagship accomplishment of Rouhani’s four years in office. That is partly because it lifted the nuclear-related sanctions on Iran—an outcome that the president suggested would help rehabilitate the country’s weakened economy. “The implementation of the Vienna nuclear agreement,” Rouhani told his cabinet shortly after the accord was struck, “is the best opportunity for the development of domestic production and the revival of global markets.”

At the time, most Iranians shared Rouhani’s optimism. In August 2015, the month after the deal’s completion, some 57 percent of Iranians felt that the economy was improving, and just 29 percent held a negative outlook, according to a survey conducted by the University of Maryland and the research group IranPoll. Yet by December 2016, likely as a result of Iranians’ excessively high expectations for quick, noticeable improvements after the deal’s signing, their hopes had waned. That month, just 42 percent of

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