On Friday February 26, 2016, millions of Iranians participated in two different elections to send their favorite candidates to important political institutions: the Parliament (Majlis) and the Assembly of Experts (Majles Khobregan). In the election of the Assembly of Experts, among 161 candidates, 88 members will be elected for a period of eight years. The members of the Assembly of Experts have the authority to select, remove, and replace Supreme Leader. The current members of the Assembly of Experts are conservative pragmatists. Mohamad Yazdi has governed the Assembly of experts since 2015. In the Parliamentary election, 290 representatives will be elected for 207 constituencies across the country. The hardline conservative faction holds the majority of the seats in the current Parliament; this faction gained its power in May 2012 during the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
According to the Iranian Ministry of Interior, for the Friday’s elections 110 million ballots for 55 million eligible voters were distributed across the country. The elections took place after the Guardian Council disapproved the majority of the Reformist candidates who follow the steps of the Former President, Mohamad Khatami in Iran’s political spectrum.
The Guardian Council is one of the most important political institutions in Iran. The duties of the Guardian Council are to safeguard Islamic rules and the Constitution, and to supervise and approve laws which are passed by the Parliament. This council has the power to block all laws enacted by Parliament. The other responsibility of the Guardian Council is to monitor the Presidential, Parliamentary, City Council, and Assembly of Experts elections and determine who can run. The Guardian Council can call referenda in Iran. The 12 members of this council are not elected by the public; six clergy members of the Guardian Council are selected by the Supreme Leader for six years and six jurist members of the council are chosen by Parliament for three years from a list of nominees, which is presented by the Supreme Judicial Council.
Last month in an unexpected move, the Guardian Council disapproved the candidacy of Hassan Khomeini, the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini. Hassan Khomeini was a nominee for the Assembly of Experts election; he is a centrist cleric. However, to mitigate the negative effects of the Guardian Council’s disapproval of moderate candidates, the current president, Hassan Rouhani, has built a consensus between the reformists, centrists (like Hassan Khomeini), and moderate conservatives (including Hashemi Rafsanjani). His plan was to push the hardliners back as much as possible in the elections of the Parliament and the Assembly of Experts.
Since his election in 2013, President Hassan Rouhani has implemented a major change in the national and international affairs of his country. His main election issue was to recover Iran’s ailing economy. To improve the weak economy of Iran, Rouhani has implemented several different policies. First, he appointed an experienced economic team to address mismanagement, corruption and severe economic pressure caused by sanctions and low oil prices. Second, he undertook the nuclear deal with the P5+1 countries in order to lift sanctions, release Iran’s 100 billion dollars of frozen funds, export more oil and goods, expand foreign investments in Iran, and access the global banking system. Third, in order to empower the economic growth of the country, he designed the Sixth Five Year Development Plan (2016-2020) which resembles the Fourth Plan drawn up by former reformist President Mohammad Khatami’s Management and Planning Organization. The Fourth Plan was not implemented during the presidency of Ahmadinejad.
President Hassan Rouhani strongly believes in enhancing social and political freedom. His agenda is to allow greater free speech for individuals and publications and to lessen the strict enforcement of restrictive laws. The hardline conservatives who have been empowered by the supremacy of the Supreme Leader oppose Rouhani’s agenda of social and political freedom. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei is the main political actor in Iran; he has command over the Executive, Judiciary, and Legislature institutions of the country.
The reformists, centrists, and moderate conservatives support social and political freedom and see the restoration of relations with the West as an opportunity to improve the position of the country in the world. The hardline conservatives on the other side have an opposite opinion about Iran’s relationship with the West and social and political freedoms. The latter call the former treasonous to the values of the Islamic Revolution.
Without any doubt, even if the moderate parties win the elections, it is too naïve to expect a totally positive outcome towards a more democratic society in Iran. However, victory of the moderate parties could bring hope ijn the political context of Iran and give more space to President Hassan Rouhani to implement his social, economic, and political reforms.
Rashin Khosravibavandpouri is an Iranian-born journalist and a member of Massachusetts Peace Action’s Middle East Working Group. She recently received her masters degree in Political Science and International Relations from Suffolk University.