Hardliners Will Continue to Dominate Iran’s Government

Patrick Goodenough | March 3, 2016 | 4:28am EST
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Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei casts his ballot in Iran's election on Friday, February 26, 2016. (Photo: Office of the Supreme Leader)

(CNSNews.com) – Despite mainstream media assertions to the contrary, Iran’s recent election for parliament and for the body that will choose the next supreme leader was not a sweeping victory for “moderates,” according to some veteran Iranian observers.

They say hardliners will continue to dominate both the parliament (the majlis) and the Assembly of Experts, the 88-member body that appoints and nominally oversees the supreme leader.

Many media outlets continue to depict the outcome of the February 26 elections as a triumph for those wanting change.

Seeking the administration’s view on the election, one reporter commented during Wednesday’s State Department briefing that “it seems like the extremists have been dealt a resounding defeat.” (Spokesman Mark Toner said the U.S. would wait for all the formal results to be tallied and officially announced.)

The three main electoral lists were the “principalists” or hardliners; the “reformists” or moderates associated with President Hasan Rouhani and former two-term President Hashemi Rafsanjani; and mostly “conservative” independents.”

Reformists are generally reported to have done better than expected, but the Iranian-American Forum reported that according to its assessment the reformist list won 37 percent of seats in parliament and 22 percent of seats in the Assembly of Experts.

(The forum noted that some candidates appeared on more than one list, leading to debate about their affiliation, but said that when in doubt it used figures most favorable to the reformist bloc.)

Even those figures do not tell the whole story, according to the Iranian-American Forum, which says it works to support the Iranian people’s aspirations for democratic change and human rights.

Because the Guardian Council – a small religious-legal body appointed by the supreme leader – disqualified the vast majority of reformists before the election, the reformist camp filled its “electoral lists with new candidates, many of them well-known conservatives, some with blatant anti-reform positions,” it said.

“Therefore, the real percentage of ‘reformists’ elected to new parliament is lower than the 37 percent,” it said.

That claim that reformists endorsed candidates with non-reformist positions concurs with the view shared ahead of the election by Saeed Ghasseminejad, an Iran expert at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who said in a policy brief that due to the mass disqualification of reformists, “those supposed ‘moderates’ who were approved have been forced to round off their party lists with hardline candidates.”

As for the Assembly of Experts, as reported earlier, some of the most controversial figures elected were endorsed by the reformist bloc associated with Rouhani and Rafsanjani.

They include individuals accused of involvement in terrorism and assassinations abroad – including Rafsanjani himself – and the sentencing to death of dissidents at home.

Amir Taheri, a former Iranian newspaper editor and prominent Middle East commentator, said the Rafsanjani-Rouhani bloc secured some important gains, including the ousting of two prominent hardline ayatollahs from the Assembly of Experts.

“But beyond those spectacular successes the picture is not as encouraging for the Rafsanjani-Rouhani faction not to mention President Barack Obama who had hoped for a change of course in Tehran,” Taheri wrote in the London-based, Saudi-owned daily Asharq Al-Awsat.

“The next Assembly of Experts will continue to have a solid hardline majority of 58 percent compared to the Rafsanjani faction’s 17 with ‘weathervanes’ holding the balance of its 88 seats.”

In the parliamentary election, Taheri reported that candidates with an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) background increased their presence from 30 percent in the outgoing majlis to 38 percent in the new one, while former intelligence and security officers had gained at least 12 seats, further strengthening the military’s position in the legislature.

Regime mouthpieces made much of the turnout, officially reported to be 62 percent.

A report in Kayhan, a hardline publication whose editor is appointed by and serves as an advisor to Khamenei, called the “massive” turnout “a popular, firm and strong riposte to outside powers pressuring Iran over its perfectly normal democracy and human rights record, as well as to their smear campaigns, especially in the United States, accusing Iran of having no democracy at all!”

But Taheri called into question the claim of a remarkable voter turnout, saying that even if the government figure is accepted the turnout was four percent down on the last parliamentary election – and the second lowest of any in the nine previous general elections held since the Islamic revolution. He acknowledged that a significant increase in turnout was recorded in Tehran, however.

The hype created by the nuclear deal “did not create the ‘avalanche of participation’ that President Hassan Rouhani had hoped for,” Taheri commented.

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