Iran reformists cheer election gains, conservatives play down shift

Reuters reports: President Hassan Rouhani and his allies won big gains in elections that could deepen Iran’s engagement with the world after his government ended years of sanctions by agreeing to curb its nuclear program.

The outcome in the results for Tehran on Monday was a blow to the conservative Islamic establishment, although it retains decisive power due to Iran’s unwieldy dual system of clerical and republican rule.

Most of the lawmakers who failed to win re-election to the new parliament strongly opposed the nuclear deal, including Mehdi Kouchakzadeh, who called Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif a traitor, and Rouhollah Hosseinian, who threatened to bury the negotiators under cement for agreeing to concessions to world powers.

“This election can be a turning point in the history of the Islamic Republic,” said an editorial in reformist newspaper Mardomsalari, whose managing editor, Mostafa Kavakebian, won a parliamentary seat in Tehran.

“The biggest achievement of this election is the return of reformists to the ruling system … so they won’t be called seditionists or infiltrators anymore,” he said, referring to hardliners who accused reformists of links to the West.

Rouhani and allied centrists and moderates won 15 out of the 16 Tehran seats in the 88-member Assembly of Experts, which is tasked with choosing the country’s next supreme leader, final election results for Tehran showed. Some of the 15 elected in Tehran were in both conservative and reformist electoral lists. [Continue reading…]

Barbara Slavin writes: When given the chance, Iranians have generally voted for reformists or pragmatists, from Mohammad Khatami for President in 1997 and 2001, to Rouhani in 2013. The exception was Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a populist hardliner who defeated a former President, Hashemi Rafsanjani, in 2005 and won again in 2009 in elections marred by fraud. Reformists swept parliamentary elections in 2000 but were disqualified en masse by the Guardian Council in 2004, 2008, and 2012.

The Guardian Council also ruthlessly pruned the candidate roster this year, removing nearly half of the more than 12,000 people who sought seats in the 290-member parliament, including almost all declared reformists. But a surviving reformist leader, a Stanford University-educated engineer and former Khatami Vice President, Mohammad Reza Aref, cobbled together candidates most supportive of Rouhani and the nuclear deal. Bolstered by a social media campaign that included a video of Khatami urging people to vote, this “List of Hope” swept all thirty seats allotted to the capital, Tehran. Among those defeated was the top hardline candidate, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, a former Speaker of parliament whose daughter is married to Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba.

In polling for the eighty-eight-member Assembly of Experts, Rafsanjani, a former Chairman of the body, led the field for sixteen seats in Tehran. Among those who failed to make the cut was Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, who is known as “Ayatollah Crocodile” for his anti-democratic views, and Mohammad Yazdi, the incumbent chair of the Assembly.

While the final tallies depend on runoff elections in some constituencies, the gains for more pragmatic figures, particularly in parliament, should make it easier for Rouhani to implement economic reforms and to appoint and retain qualified cabinet ministers.

As the scope of the mandate became clear, Rouhani told the official Islamic Republic News Agency on February 27: “It’s time to open a new chapter in Iran’s economic development based on domestic abilities and international opportunities…The people showed their power once again and gave more credibility and strength to their elected government.” [Continue reading…]

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