Blow for reformists in Iran

March 03, 2016 12:13 am | Updated November 17, 2021 02:05 am IST

Final results from Iran’s February 26 elections to Parliament and the clerical body, the Assembly of Experts, show that the moderates have clinched a > resounding political victory . In the 290-seat Parliament, the reformist allies of President Hassan Rouhani won at least 85 seats, while the moderate conservatives secured 73 seats. Together they will control the House. The hardliners, who were steadfastly opposed to Mr. Rouhani’s reform agenda, won only 68 seats. In the 88-member Assembly of Experts, the clerics backed by reformists and centrists claimed 52 seats. This is not the first time Iranian voters have spoken their mind against the hardliners. For the last many years they have consistently pushed reformist or less conservative candidates through Iran’s rigid electoral process. Still, last week’s twin elections were highly significant for Iran’s polity in general and Mr. Rouhani in particular for a number of reasons. This was the first election after Mr. Rouhani secured the historic nuclear deal with world powers last year, ending the country’s isolation in return for giving up its nuclear programme. The hardliners > were opposed to the nuclear deal. Even the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had warned the political leadership several times against any rapprochement with the West. The hardliners had also opposed Mr. Rouhani’s plans to open up the country’s economy and reach business deals with overseas companies, including those from the West.

Had the moderates suffered an electoral setback, it would have been a major blow to Mr. Rouhani’s reform agenda. It would also have cast a shadow on his re-election prospects next year. Now it is evident where the popular support lies. And with his allies controlling Parliament, the President could push his legislative and economic agenda at ease. Second, the election of more moderate candidates into the Assembly of Experts than hardliners is a significant achievement for the reformist movement. The Assembly is an important clerical body in Iran’s Islamist establishment which can, technically, choose the next Supreme Leader. If the clerics elected to the body work in coordination with the moderate politicians, that could change the balance of power in Iran’s complex polity. However, to anticipate any dramatic change in the system would be overriding the mandate. Those who call for rapid improvement in the human rights situation in Iran and for the weakening of the role of the clergy in politics will continue to be disappointed. The system is too complicated, with direct checks on the powers of everyone but the Supreme Leader. As long as the Supreme Leader backs the hardliners, Mr. Rouhani is unlikely to take any radical initiatives. Nevertheless, the election results represent a clear step forward in Iran’s gradualist transformation from a rigid Islamist theocracy into a broader religious democracy. Mr. Rouhani’s challenge is to build on the electoral momentum and strengthen the moderate currents in Iran’s politics and society, and thereby expedite the pace of transformation.

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