Implications of 2012 Parliamentary Elections in Iran

By: Yadullah Shahibzadeh

Iran’s parliament elections are scheduled to take place in early March 2012.[1] Last two parliament elections were engineered by Iran’s Guardian Council of the Constitution in such a way that conservative forces close to Mahmud Ahmadinezhad won the majority of the seats in the parliament. Disqualification of hundreds of reform oriented candidates in the previous parliament elections and the suspicious results of 2009 presidential election convinced reform oriented forces close to Iran’s former president Mohammad Khatami, to stay away from the debates on 2012 parliament elections. While conservative political organizations and politicians supporting Ahamadinezhad in the 2009 presidential elections are preparing themselves for the coming elections they express their concern over the consequences of eventual absence of reform oriented forces in the elections which may put popular legitimacy of the political system in danger.[2] The absence of reform oriented forces in the election would certainly result in low voter turnout, something the Islamic Republic has tried to avoid throughout its history even though it has not always been able to handle the consequences of high voter turnouts as the outcomes of the 2009 presidential election have shown. The 2009 presidential candidates Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi who contested the results of the election are now under house-arrest and many politicians and political activists who supported them in their presidential campaign have been sentenced to prison and their newspapers and organizations closed down. Right now, reform oriented forces led by Khatami are united behind the demands he put forward as a condition of their participation in the elections according to which all political prisoners must be released, freedom of expression and assembly must be protected, and finally free and fair elections must be guaranteed by the government.[3] Since last year, Khatami reiterated these demands several times but has not received any positive response from the conservatives in power. The reluctance of the reform oriented forces to be engaged in the debates on the coming elections has irritated veteran conservative figures who assume that the reform oriented forces may pursue undercover electoral strategies in the elections. According to this supposedly secrete strategy they will not participate in the elections officially but would select and support candidates declared by the Guardian Council as qualified candidates provided they follow a reform oriented politics in the parliament.[4]  The absence of the reform oriented forces from the coming elections makes the efforts of the conservative forces with their meetings, debates and negotiations to form a joint list of candidates in the coming elections to look like a worthless effort since the elections seem to lack real electoral competition. While the absence of a real electoral opponent should have made conservative forces to expect an easy electoral victory, it makes them more cynical and has intensified their divisions and inner fighting. At the moment, there are three conservative sub-factions expecting to win the majority of the seats in the new parliament. Traditional conservatives alliance the United Front of Principalists (jebheye motahed-e osulgarayan) led by the current president of Iran’s Assembly of Experts, Ayatollah Mahdavi Kkani, the neo-conservative radical forces, which paved the way for Ahamdinezhad’s  presidency in 2005 and 2009, in the Resistance Front (jebheye paidari) led by Ayatollah Mesbah Yazdi and finally supporters of Ahmadinezhad’s chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaiy referred to as deviators (monhatefin) by their conservative rivals.[5]

The traditional conservatives believe they would benefit from participation of reform oriented forces in the elections, because it would restore the popular legitimacy the state enjoyed but has been seriously damaged in the aftermath of 2009 presidential election and force Ahmadinezhad’s allies to obey the majority rule within the conservative faction which they have ignored in the previous elections since 2005. But popular legitimacy is a strange word for Ahamdinezhad and his neo-conservative allies whether in the Resistance Front or among those backing Rahim Mashaiy. They both prefer to get rid of reform oriented candidates at all costs.

The traditional conservative faction has good reason to worry about unpredicted consequences of its internal rivalry and the informal support of reform oriented forces to little known reform oriented parliamentary candidates. In the case of a unified conservative list of candidates, the Guardian Council would have an easy job to disqualify unwanted candidates but it might be unable to perform its function satisfactorily when conservatives forces enter the elections with different lists of candidates, because in that case unknown reform oriented candidates cannot be easily recognized, classified and disqualified. There is a chance, the conservatives assume, that as a consequence of their internal confusion the reform oriented forces come out victorious from the elections without compromising their demands as a condition for their electoral participation. Unlike presidential elections in which voters distinguish candidates according to their political affiliations and in terms of their reformist or conservative approach, parliament elections entail many regional and local interests and concerns. For instance, there is an elite competition between Arabs and non-Arabs in the province of Khuzestan which has been exploited by conservatives close to Ahmadinezhad and Mohsen Rezaiy, former commanders of the Revolutionary Guard, in the previous elections and it will be exploited in the forthcoming elections as well. While the former can mobilize Arab voters behind Arab candidates in the south-west of the province, the latter would invest his political influence in the north-east of the province to mobilize non-e Arab voters behind his own candidates. With regard to the split within the conservative faction in this province, reform oriented forces may support Arab or non-Arab candidates advocating local causes and would like to join the reform oriented politics. The political scene in the province of Bushehr is friendlier for such reform oriented electoral maneuvering since the local public sphere in this region is dominated by local intellectuals and political activists who are unanimous in their support for democratic reforms on a local and national scale. Local intellectuals and political activists in this region would support reform oriented candidates since they can transmit their voice and discuss local grievances in the parliament and force governments to take the interests of their province and cities into consideration.[6] The current representatives of Bushehr in the parliament are supportive of reform oriented city councils and local non-governmental organizations and raise their voice against central government’s policies in the region. So it is more likely that local intellectuals and political activists in this region give their support to, at least, two current parliament members if they stand as parliament candidate and are qualified by the Guardian Council.[7]

 

 

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