“Tehran is liberated territory” as Pragmatists & Centrists win Iranian Capital & Expert Assembly

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The era of former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also a former mayor of Tehran, is completely over. Ahmadinejad’s so-called spiritual mentor, Mohammad-Taqi Misbah-Yazdi (actually an extremely hateful individual), lost his seat on the Assembly of Experts, as did far right figure Mohammad Yazdi, the body’s sitting chairman.

Not only that, but the 88-person Assembly of Experts, which chooses the next clerical Leader and loosely supervises the current one, now has a centrist majority, after a rout of the far right. Rouhani and former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani were among the top vote-getters on this body. Some 57 other centrists and pragmatists joined them on the 88-member body.

All 30 seats in the Iranian parliament representing the capital, Tehran, have been won by allies of President Hassan Rouhani. Some of the top vote-getters were from the list of former president Mohammad Khatami, who is to Rouhani’s left, though still a man of the Khomeinist system of clerical rule or theocracy. Khatami had led the 2nd of Khordad movement, supported by women and youth, which aimed at gaining more personal liberties and more freedom of expression. A little like Barack Obama, Khatami, whose second term ended in 2005, saw his movement constantly stymied, though in his case it was not obstructed by parliament but by far right elements in the unelected institutions of Iran, the office of the clerical Leader and the judiciary.

BBC Monitoring paraphrases the centrist Arman-i Imruz newspaper’s reaction: “the ‘comfortable defeat’ of senior conservative leaders at the hands of unknown faces of the reformist coalition in the Majlis election demonstrates the depth of people’s trust in reformist leaders.”

In other big cities, centrists and pragmatists also did well, but like the US Congress, rural areas are over-represented in the Iranian parliament, as a prominent France24 analyst points out:

It appears that centrists have tripled their strength in the new parliament, with a corresponding drop in the number of far right MPs. But likely the parliament will have no majority, and the centrists certainly won’t win more than about a third of the seats:

While right wing and far right wing candidates did better in rural areas and smaller cities, there is a difference between the two. The centrists in Tehran need pragmatic conservatives to cooperate with them if they are to get anything done. If more practical and less ideological persons get elected elsewhere in the country, Tehran’s representatives can leverage those into a big tent and perhaps get some reform legislation passed.

These developments matter because the far right MPs had been hostile to the UNSC nuclear deal, continue to be strident in their enmity with the United States, and sought to block the economic and cultural opening of Iran to the world.

Especially European potential investors in Iran won big this weekend.

BBC Monitoring translated this report from Islamic Republic of Iran News Network, Tehran, in Persian 0600 gmt 28 Feb 16:

“Reformist-backed candidates have secured a landslide victory in the Tehran constituency in the Majlis (parliamentary) elections while the only major conservative candidate, former Speaker Gholamali Haddad-Adel, is on track to lose his bid for re-election, the state-run rolling news channel IRINN reported on 28 February.

According to the preliminary official results for the Tehran constituency announced by the election HQ, Mohammad Reza Aref, the reformist former vice-president, is in first with more than 1,280,000 votes.

Haddad-Adel, the only conservative who was among the first 30 names announced yesterday, has slipped to 31st from 7th, the IRINN report added.

Aref is followed by other names from the “List of Hope” – a title given to the pro-reform candidate list by former President Mohammad Khatami.

Ali Motahhari, Ali Reza Mahjub, Soheyla Jelodarzadeh, Kazem Jalali, Elyas Hazrati, and Kazem Jalali stood 2nd to 6th according to the latest tally announced by the Elections HQ.

The Twitter account of the pro-reform daily Sharq reported that all the names on the “List of Hope” have made it into the parliament according to the latest results.

The capital sends 30 deputies to the 290-member Majlis. Tehran is significant because deputies from the capital usually determine the political direction of the Majlis.”


Related video:

Iran’s hardliners lose to moderates I FT World

5 Responses

  1. While it is indeed possible Obama’s diplomatic strategy feeds into these results it is arguably no less true that a steady move away from unequivocal theological subservience has been on the cards anyway. Iranians are not immune to the modern world and, while there certainly persist ultra extremists in the more remote areas, many of their less acceptable judicial sentences have, I understand, been set aside by the high court. The recent isolation of Iran may actually have been inhibiting a process of liberalisation for at least two reasons, the first that such developments have a distinctly Western, particularly US, feel about them, and then, associated with that, the activity of humanitarian groups, however well motivated and intentioned, and the extensive publicity of their activities which may have made mercy harder to grant since doing so might appear to be bowing to Western pressure. There are no absolutes here but it is worth considering whether what the elections appear to evidence today might not have of occurred sooner without all those sanctions and demonisation. The same could well be true of Syria. After all, the US is quite happy to support the KSA and Israel so it might appear a shade disingenuous to make an issue of Iran’s internal political arrangements.

  2. the global powers don’t care about whether a woman in iran is forced to wear hijab or free to walk around in western clothing. What concerns them is Iran’s independent foreign policy. That’s what keeps them awake at night.

  3. Many thanks for this excellent and well-informed reporting of Iran’s recent election. As you point out, prior to the election, the reformist had called on their supporters not to vote for three most reactionary clerics.

    One- Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, who replaced Hashemi-Rafsanjani as the chairman of the Assembly of Expert after the controversial 2009 election when Hashemi-Rafsanjani supported Mir Hoseyn Musavi. Yazdi was sometimes referred to as a possible future Supreme Leader.

    Two- The odious Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi who has said that in an Islamic Republic the votes of the people do not count as the country is run on the basis of the law of God. Instead of an Islamic Republic, he advocated an Islamic Government, with a supreme clerical leader who according to him is chosen by God and not by the people. He too had been been regarded as a possible successor to Ayatollah Khamenei. It is absolutely amazing that they did not even get elected.

    The third hardline cleric was Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the chairman of the Guardian Council, who disqualified so many reformist candidates. He was elected but he came last in the list of elected candidates from Tehran. In any case, he is 89 and cannot remain at the head of that body for much longer.

    The Principlists (the extreme hardliners) had nominated Gholamali Haddad-Adel as the next speaker of parliament, a post that he had held a couple of times in the past, as they were sure of their massive majority in the next parliament. He is very close to Khamenei, and his daughter is married to Khamenei’s son. It is equally amazing that he too failed to even get elected to the parliament. So, despite all the disqualifications, the reformists and the moderates have won a stunning victory. They do not have an absolute majority, but with 83 from the reformist coalition and 55 independents and 10 from People’s Voice Coalition (as opposed to 64 belonging to the Principlist Coalition), President Rouhani will have a much more cooperative parliament and he may pay more attention to domestic issues and greater freedoms for the people. So far, he has achieved two major successes, the nuclear agreement and a good election, which has put an end to the Principlist domination for the past three terms.

  4. Thanks for the analysis Juan. If only American Republican primary voters were as rational as Tehran’s voters…
    It’s clear that U.S. foreign policy impacts Iranian political developments. Let’s remember a far less propitious impact from the not so distant past: After the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks on September 11, 2001, the US “requested help and Iran’s diplomats and Revolutionary Guard quietly provided extensive intelligence and political assistance to the U.S. military and CIA, to improve targeting the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. [And once] the Taliban was ousted in late 2001, Iran again proved crucial to getting the victorious Northern Alliance to accept a limited number of cabinet posts and Hamid Karzai as the new president – a critical step toward immediately stabilizing post-Taliban Afghanistan. Iranian diplomats made clear their interest in expanding contacts with the United States….[However,] any remaining chance of reconciliation evaporated in early 2002, when George W. Bush declared Iran part of his Axis of Evil. Iranian officials considered it a slap in the face, and it had grave consequences for President Khatami and his beleaguered reform movement. The U.S. denunciation became ammunition for hard-liners, who used it as final proof of American mendacity – and of reformist naïveté.” link to detailedpoliticalquizzes.wordpress.com

    • Bitter Friends, Bosom Enemies: Iran, the U.S., and the Twisted Path to Confrontation by Barbara Slavin is a pretty good book and it goes into this in some depth.

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