Fate of Iran’s next parliament may already be sealed

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Published: Updated:

While asking voters to participate at two upcoming elections to nominate the next Iranian parliament and the country’s Assembly of Experts, Iran’s supreme leader did not shy away from saying what outcomes he expects.

Speaking last month, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei thought it was important to clarify an earlier statement in which he said even Iranians who disagree with the Islamic Republic’s political system should vote in the elections. “This remark does not mean that the people should want to vote for those who do not accept the system into parliament,” he said.

His remarks have already disappointed many; not just the people, but also moderate-reformist members of the system who perceive elections as an opportunity for change.

Iranians are now left without a prominent reformist figure to vote for among the qualified candidates. Any hope of mobilizing voters who are seeking change is not high.

Camelia Entekhabi-Fard

Khamenei appears to no longer want to drag a huge number of voters to the polling stations as a demonstration of public support for him. Instead, he is changing his tune and implying that he no longer needs the crowds as a testimony.

Both elections to nominate Iran’s parliament and its Assembly of Experts (a clerical body that monitors the supreme leader’s performance and chooses his successor), are scheduled on the same day, February 26. The Guardian Council, which is responsible for vetting parliamentary candidates, has disqualified a large number of moderates, semi-reformists and those close to the government of moderate President Hassan Rowhani. The mass disqualifications, despite this week’s reversal of a ban on 1,500 candidates, have led to the public losing interest in the vote.

‘If we don’t vote, we lose’

Iranians are now left without a prominent reformist figure to vote for among the qualified candidates. Any hope of mobilizing voters who are seeking change is not high. Rowhani has realized this, and urged Iranians to vote, recently saying “if we don’t vote, we definitely lose.”

This was one of the most direct remarks from the president about the elections. He knows that the public’s disappointment can benefit the hardliners and lead to them winning most, if not all, of the seats in parliament.

The lack of reformist and moderate figures entering parliament can cause difficulties for Rowhani when it comes to continuing to implement the terms of the nuclear deal in the coming months.

Rowhani still needs public support to fully implement the deal and continue to reduce tensions with Western powers and boost the economy. But if he lacks parliamentary support, the rest of his presidency may prove difficult, as well as prospects for his re-election. The next presidential election is in less than two years.

A hardliner-majority parliament also poses another fear; the extreme empowerment's of institutions such as the Revolutionary Guards, currently operating in Syria and Iraq.

Many do not wish to publicly admit these fears, but political leaders – among the reformists such as former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani – have raised the alarm.

Iran is about to mark the 37th anniversary of its Islamic Revolution on February 11. A lot has changed in society since the revolution, but the struggle between the two sides of the country’s political system appears to be endless.
Camelia Entekhabi-Fard is a journalist, news commentator and writer who grew up during the Iranian Revolution and wrote for leading reformist newspapers. She is also the author of Camelia: Save Yourself by Telling the Truth - A Memoir of Iran. She lives in New York City and Dubai. She can be found on Twitter: @CameliaFard

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