Monday,11 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)
Monday,11 December, 2017
Issue 1283, (18 - 24 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Elections in Iran

This month’s parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections in Iran could have major repercussions for the country’s foreign policy and government, writes Camelia Entekhabifard

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Al-Ahram Weekly

It’s too early for the public in Iran to decide among the many candidates whose names have been printed on different coloured paper lists for the upcoming elections, or even to know who they are and which parties are supporting them. Many of the best-known candidates have been disqualified from running in the two major elections in Iran scheduled for 26 February. However, the qualified candidates have been slowly revealing their real identities by appearing on different groups’ and supporters’ lists.

A merger between semi-reformer and semi-moderate candidates has been one of the most significant moves against the hardliners who are planning to take over the country’s next parliament. And when it comes to the Assembly of Experts elections, it seems that the lists bearing pictures of President Hassan Rouhani and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani are the most popular ones.

The Assembly of Experts is entitled to choose the country’s supreme leader and monitor his leadership. Assembly elections are held every eight years. It may be that this one will elect the country’s next supreme leader, due to rumours of the sickness of the current incumbent, Ayatollah Khamenei.

A parliament that can work in harmony with the current government, which has another two years to go before the next presidential elections, will also give the public confidence in ongoing stability and economic reforms.

But for many, the Assembly of Experts election is more important than the parliamentary one, since it will decide who may lead Iran after Khamenei.

People do not know much about individual candidates, but they know the differences between the parties. The “Khobregan Mardom” or “Assembly of the People” list thus far looks the more popular.

The grandson of the Islamic Revolution’s founder, Hassan Khomeini, has been banned from running in the Assembly elections as a signal that the Assembly does not need reform of its ultra-conservative composition.

But having Rafsanjani as a candidate has made the elections attractive and is likely to build public support for them. They are many expectations about the elections that go beyond the economy and social reforms. Iranians are hoping to see relations between Iran and the US improve, based on recent diplomatic achievements and as a way of empowering Iran.

The implementation of the nuclear deal and the recent prisoner swap raised hopes that Rouhani will be able to continue such work on the international scene.

Since the US presidential elections will take place next year, the elections in Iran are also especially important. They could indicate what policies will be pursued in the next parliament when it comes to foreign policy and supporting the current government.

For the majority of Iranians, the diplomacy pursued by the moderate government of Rouhani with US President Barack Obama was highly welcome, and they support its continuation.

However, an ultra-conservative parliament in Iran could ruin these achievements if it is faced with a Republican president in the US who may want to challenge the nuclear deal with Tehran.

Hopes for improving relations, seen as possible if a Democrat comes to power in the US and if the parliament and the next supreme leader in Iran stay on the same path, have also led to excitement in Iran.

The hostility of former Republican president George W Bush towards the Islamic Republic empowered Iran’s conservatives, troubled reformists and journalists, and helped to dismantle then-President Mohamed Khatami’s government.

Iranians see conservative Republicans in the US in a similar way to extremists in Iran, and believe the Republicans may shatter current achievements if they take power in the US in the same way that could happen if the conservatives come to power in Iran.

The Republican presidential candidates in the US say they are against the nuclear deal with the conservatives in Iran. If the next US president is a Republican, this will also have an impact on the next presidential elections in Iran unless the new parliament supports the Iranian president.

Animosity against the US is what the conservatives could pursue if they take control of the Iranian parliament in this month’s elections, throwing stones into Rouhani’s path as he implements the nuclear deal during the last two years of his presidency.

Any frustration of the current moderate government will give the hardliners a chance to seize power again at the next presidential elections. No matter who is the next president in the US — Republican or Democrat —it is important that the current elections in Iran build enough public support for the moderates.

President Rouhani needs to secure his support base in the next parliament in order to face the next president in the US, and as he heads towards his own possible re-election.

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