In what amounts to a referendum on President Hassan Rouhani’s leadership, voters in Tehran turned out overwhelmingly for moderates in closely watched parliamentary elections that may serve as an important signal for where Iran is headed.
Pro-Rouhani candidates are set to sweep all 30 of Tehran’s parliamentary seats. The 290-member body is dominated by hard-liners, but that looks set to change under the President, whose decision to negotiate with the US over the country’s nuclear program was an enormous political gamble.
“The early victories and reports of a high turnout spurred claims of victory on social media by activists and media who share Rouhani’s ambition of overhauling the post-sanctions economy with the help of foreign investment and perhaps easing some social restrictions,” Bloomberg notes. “Yet to secure control of the legislature and confront entrenched conservative power in other governing institutions like the judiciary, the president will need similar wins nationwide.”
Turnout was high, which would seem to indicate that younger voters came out en masse to support the President’s agenda. The vote comes a year ahead of Presidential elections where Rouhani might well seek a second term. Iran should “use international opportunities to start a new chapter in the growth and blossoming of the national economy,” the President said on Saturday.
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) February 26, 2016
Of course the groundswell of support for Rouhani-allied parliamentary candidates is only partially relevant. The Guardian Council - which decides who can run and also approves laws passed by parliament - is the ultimate authority and it’s overseen by the Ayatollah. Out of some 12,000 people who tried to run for parliament, 6,000 were disqualified by the Council which has 12 members, half of which are appointed by the Ayatollah and the the other half by someone who the Ayatollah appoints.
As WSJ notes “moderates were also dominating in Tehran for the 88-member Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that will choose a successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.” Here's a bit more from al-Arabiya:
The Assembly of Experts consists of 86 clerics who are elected by the people. Nevertheless, before anyone is permitted to run, they are vetted by the hardline organization; the Council of Guardians. The 12 members of Guardian Council, are appointed directly (six members) and indirectly (nominated by the head of Judiciary) which, in return, is appointed by the supreme leader.
Without a doubt, the 12 members of the Guardian Council owe their position to the supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, represent the agenda of Khamenei, and disqualify any one whose viewpoints are not in alignment with Khamenei. For example, the Guardian Council even banned the grandson of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Hossein Khomeini, from running for a seat in the Assembly of Experts.
"Together, Friday’s two elections could play a major role in shaping the country’s direction, amid deep ideological differences over the wisdom of opening up to the international community," WSJ goes on to note.
Maybe, but not really. No one should be duped into believing that the IRGC and Khamenei aren't in control of these elections. They're willing to let the people express their political preferences to a certain degree but the way the system is structured, wresting power from the Ayatollah really isn't possible.
But at least Iran has the trappings of democracy. The Saudis don't even bother to pretend.
In any event, the results - which are incomplete - do indicate one thing: the Ayatollah understands the importance of giving at least some say to the people. That say is subject to dictatorial veto everywhere and always, and that's not democracy but at least the whole show isn't run by a family of fanatical Sunni oil barons hell bent on exporting ultra puritanical Islam.
Imperfect? Yes. Rigged? Probably. Preferable to the political systems adopted by all of Washington's Mid-East allies? Definitely.
“Ultra-conservatives are on the back foot, but not defeated," Ali Vaez, senior Iran analyst at the New York-based International Crisis Group said.
Right. And they never will be "defeated." But they do understand that modernity requires a certian deference to democratic ideals, i.e., the US establishment which suddenly is opening up its loanbook checkbook for Iranian firms and consumers.
Which is more than you can say for the Gulf monarchies.