A range of Russian, Western and even Iranian mass media were flooded with the reports on the seeming victory of reformists at the parliamentary elections in Iran. In fact, the things are not all that good for the List of Hope alliance of reformists. For instance, Kayhan, an Iranian newspaper, wrote that 222 new parliamentarians were elected by Wednesday, with 68 more MPs to be elected in the second round in April. However, it is known that reformists received just some 90 seats, while the conservatives got 153. The rest were running as independent candidates. Meantime, the website of the Iranian Labor Agency has published quite different data: reformists got 78 seats, conservatives – 83 ones. Lebanese Al-Manar TV says the conservatives and reformists received 103 and 94 seats, respectively. Actually, the Iranian media have their own data on the voting result. This will continue until the official results are published.
The reason behind such different data is partly the uncertain political identity of the candidates. Among reformists and conservatives, there are many currents, groups and factions. These are not traditional political parties. Furthermore, some politicians come out as reformists in one issue and as conservatives in another. They may be ready for changes and criticize them at particular stages of their life. For instance, the former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani also participated in the February 26 elections, but he ran for the Assembly of Experts – a more powerful structure than the parliament in Iran. As president, Rafsanjani was known to be a moderate conservative. Now, he is more known as a reformist. Another example: conditional reformist Ali Motahari – the second in the List of Hope for social and gender issues – is absolute conservative when it comes to hijabs and other gender related issues. Therefore, it is not clear at the moment, who, in fact, won: either conservatives or reformists.
The reformists, undoubtedly, have a chance to align with independent parliamentarians, whose number also differs in various reports. The situation will finally become clear after the second round of elections in April. Iranian experts and ordinary citizens think the conservatives will probably take most of the remaining 68 seats. All this means that the forecasts of the Mohammad Reza Aref, the lead Reformist candidate for Tehran, saying that the reformist would have the majority in the parliament, did not come true. Aref made such forecasts at the beginning of the last year at the congress of the reformists at the Tehran-based Center of Monotheism. The politician, of course, meant that his supporters would win, if there were no serious attempts to prevent their victory.
However, the reformists faced a severe counter-campaign both before and during the elections. Suffice it to say that the leaders of the Iranian legal opposition that led the youth to the streets in 2009 - Mir-Hossein Mousavi, Mehdī Karrūbĩ, Zahra Rahnavard and others - are still under house arrest. Moreover, even Seyyed Mohammad Khatami – the recognized leader of reformists and former president of Iran – has recently been deprived of the opportunity to speak in public and publish his articles in mainstream media. As for the ‘filters’, the candidates for Majlis – the Council of Guardians, first – have to pass through, only 1% of the reformist politicians avoided it. Incumbent president Hassan Rouhani and conservatives have occurred on the brink of a serious politician conflict over the matter. Rouhani - the Iranian public and the world community consider him as a supporter of reforms – severely slammed the administrators that “screened out” his supporters. “Majlis is a house for people, not for a certain faction!” the president said. The Council of Guardians was severely criticized also by the abovementioned Mohammad Khatami and Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The latter indirectly accused the Council for abuse of power. Eventually, more than 15% of the “screened out” candidates were restored. The conservatives also experienced such severe filtering. Hadad Adel, the son in law of the leader of the Islamic Republic Seyd Ali Khamenei, was not let to the parliament. The current disqualification of the candidates was the most large-scale in history of the Islamic Republic.
Stiff rivalry, disqualification and indignation of political leaders did not touch the religious minorities of Iran which are required to elect 5 parliamentarians: 2 – by Armenians (by one candidate for the north and south), 1 - by Jews, 1 - by Zoroastrians, and by 1 candidate by Assyrians and Chaldeans. For instance, the Armenians of the south elected George Abrahamyan, the only candidate for the given position. The Armenians of the north were to choose from three candidates. The winner was Karen Khanlaryan. This is incomparable with the stiff rivalry of the reformists and conservatives.
At best, the victory of the reformists is that their number in the parliament of the 10th convocation has increased significantly - 44% of total seats versus 26% in the previous parliament. In case of independent parliamentarians in the parliament – the reformists rely on them in many issues – such representation will enable them to support President Rouhani’s line in the parliament. However, if this line goes beyond the line of the Supreme Leader, the latter has enough levers to block any event or decision of the president - conservatives still hold majority of the seats in the parliament. Among them there are politicians as Ruhollah Hosseinian, who promised to bury the Iranian diplomats who “yielded to the West.” The views of many other conservative politicians little differ from this one. Furthermore, the Supreme Leader has also other levers of influence - the most important issues in Iran are settled outside the parliament and the Cabinet. Ayatollah Khamenei settles such issues on his own, as he has influence on a number of structures with uncertain, though strong, powers – the Council of Guardians, the Expediency Council, the National Security Council, the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Islamic Council and the Assembly of Experts.
The delegates to the last one were elected on the same day as parliamentarians – on February 26. The results of elections to the Assembly of Experts proved more surprising and encouraging for the reformists. First, the former president of the country and the head of the Expediency Council Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani swept the given elections. It is noteworthy that he is considered as a reformist and embattled politician, who was stripped of his chair at the Assembly of Experts last year. Mohammad Yazdi replaced him on that post. The Iranian voters supported Rafsanjani to make it clear whom they really want to see on that post. Incumbent President Rouhani took the 3rd place at the elections to the Assembly of Experts. The reformists received 20 seats in total. Conservatives received 27 seats. However, both the forces support 35 members of the Assembly. This enables Rouhani and Khashemi Rafsanjani to gain them over. Experts say that considering the former president’s rich political experience and talent in backroom deals and the popularity of the incumbent president, the reformists can count upon 50 out of 88 supporters.
Mass media keep mentioning the critical importance of the Assembly of Experts, as it is to elect the Supreme Leader. This issues remains pertinent to Iran, considering Ali Khamenei’s age (76) and deteriorating health (he is said to suffer from cancer). In fact, that Assembly has never elected the Supreme Leader in fact - Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Mūsavi Khomeini introduced the incumbent Supreme Leader as his successor and the Experts had no choice but approve that decision. Before that, Khamenei had not been even in the list of the candidates for the highest post of the Islamic Republic. As for the future Supreme and Religious Leader (Rahbar), among others, Rafsanjani has suggested replacing the Supreme Leader with a Council of several ones. In such case, the role of the Assembly of Experts will be reconsidered – some of its members will most probably enter the Council of Rahbars. Rafsanjani’s concept once angered the political elite in Iran and Ali Khamenei personally. It became one of the reasons to embattle the former president. However, his success at the elections made it clear that this politician has enough force to implement his project after death of Khamenei.
Another important result of the February 26 elections, was the success of Iranian female politicians. One of them was Dr. Esmat Savadi, Professor at Azad University, who holds a PhD degree in jurisprudence and principles of law. Her nomination was not approved, but participation of a woman in the elections to such important power body shows certain improvements in the social and political situation in Iran. As for the parliament, 15 women have already been elected to it, of which 14 are reformists (8 from Tehran). Fifteen female parliamentarians is a record-breaking figure in history of the Islamic Republic. Furthermore, after the second round of elections in April, the number of female parliamentarians at the Iranian Majlis may increase to 22 people. Among the elected candidates is Parvaneh Salahshori, a 51-year-old sociologist, who among others opposes the compulsory hijab laws. It is a serious and bold display of liberalism in Iran. Another female parliamentarian, former employee of the Foreign Ministry, Tayibe Siavoshi, also advocates for the rights of women in her election program. The youngest female parliamentarian, a 30-year old Reformist from Tehran, Seyedeh Fatemeh Hosseini, a PhD candidate in finance, strongly opposes presence of security officers at higher educational establishments. The newly elected member of the parliament believes that educational community has a right to criticize the government and the security officers should create no obstacles to it.
Actually, what happened in Iran on February 26 can be called a step forward in the development of civil society, political awareness and activity of Iranians. At the same time, the reformists did not win the elections definitely. Actually, the election result in no way affects the firmness of the political system of Iran. Quite, the contrary, it strengthens the system even more. The reformists representing millions of the citizens frustrated with the realities in Iran have been elected to the parliament. Yet there will be right as many reformists in the Majlis as it is necessary to calm down the population and enable a moderate reformist policy of Hassan Rouhani. It is important now, after the Islamic Republic has settled its nuclear problems in the foreign policy arena and needs economic and social changes inside the country. Meantime, the major issues will further be settled by Ayatollah Khamenei-controlled structures that are above the parliament, the president, and the government. This will continue for a long time – at least until Rabhar is replaced.
Anton Yevstratov, lecturer at the World History and Regional Studies Department, RAU, for EADaily