Iranian parliamentary elections: in the shadows of 2009 and 2013

Iranaian voters went to the polls today in a parliamentary election that will determine who fills the 290 seats of the National Consultative Assembly of Iran.

Hooman Majd, the author of two books on Iranian political system and governance, The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran and The Ayatollahs’ Democracy: An Iranian Challenge, spoke with Al Jazeera’s The Stream yesterday (video above) to discuss the current state of internal Iranian politics.

In the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election, which was widely seen as rigged by incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, key leaders of the opposition, which came to be known as the “Green movement,” are boycotting today’s election, including former moderate president Mohammad Khatami, and many reformers — including presidential candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi and moderate refomer Mehdi Karroubi — remain under house arrest.

Accordingly, given that fewer reformers were allowed to stand for legislative elections, with other Green movement leaders laced under house arrest or otherwise quieted, and with the remaining reformers simply boycotting today’s election, it is expected that various groups of conservatives will win decisively today and make further gains.  In particular, the election has pitted one group of pro-Ahmadinejad conservatives against another group of more anti-Ahmadinejad (and pro-Khamenei) conservatives, as described today in an editorial in The New York Times by Ardeshir Amir-Arjomand, a professor of international law and adviser to Mousavi, who declared today’s election a farce:

There are no genuine ideological differences between these factions; what motivates them is a lust for power and control of the country’s oil wealth. And they are competing in a polemical race to describe how they would “stamp out” what, in official spin, is labeled as the “remnants of the sedition” — officialese for Iran’s popular Green protest movement, which was brutally attacked three years ago but has nevertheless survived.    

Going into the election, 195 of the 290 seats are generally held by hardline conservatives.  Although Iranian elections are restricted to a public space controlled and the power of the presidency and legislature are highly subordinate to the guidance of Iran’s unelected Supreme Leader, some elections in Iran have been freer than others.  While the 2009 elections are widely assumed to have been ridden with fraud, the results of the 1997 election that made the moderate Khatami president was permitted to stand.  Likewise, the result of the 2003 election that launched Ahmadinejad to the presidency over former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was also viewed as more or less legitimate.

With international economic sanctions putting a real pinch on the Iranian economy, and with talk increasing of an American or Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear program, today’s election will determine which brand of hard-line conservatism will be ascendant in advance of the 2013 presidential election.

It remains altogether unknown whether the remnants of the reformist Green movement will be permitted to rebound with looser restrictions and, even if conditions so allow, the Green movement will have sufficient strength, three years after the high-water mark of the Moussavi-led protests, to field a real challenge in the 2013 election.

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