Last Friday, Iran held its first elections since the controversial 2009 presidential contest, after which millions of voters poured into streets of Tehran. Unrest following the announced re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad culminated in mass detention, torture and the death of many protesters. It also led to the near-elimination of pro-reform political forces in the Islamic Republic. For this very reason, the parliamentary vote last week should be viewed as an unrepresentative sham — nothing more than a selection process amongst the ruling conservative elite. As the dispute between Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Ahmadinejad runs deeper, this election is widely interpreted as a battle between these two political heavyweights. With the ballot boxes now counted, the outcome categorically declares Khamenei as the winner — as was broadly anticipated. But placing Iran’s future policy trajectory in its proper context requires caution against reaching hasty conclusions. The results clearly show that candidates openly associated with Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie failed to enter the parliament. However, the Islamic Revolution Durability Front, backed by ultra-conservative Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah Yazdi and fairly close to Ahmadinejad, performed relatively well, thereby lessening the possibility of a solid opposition to the president emerging in the new parliament.
A cursory glance at the election results shows that three main conservative factions triumphed: the United Fundamentalist Front, a coalition of traditional conservatives backed by Ayatollah Mohammad Reza Mahdavi Kani; the aforementioned Durability Front; and the Resistance Front, composed of moderate conservatives supported by former IRGC chief commander and ex-presidential candidate Mohsen Rezaie. However, a closer look at the outcome reveals few candidates from Rezaei’s list winning seats; the already-marginalized reformist bloc further shrinking in parliament; and the number of moderate conservative and independent lawmakers dwindling to new lows. In direct contrast, the two prominent conservative factions — backed by Khamenei and Mesbah Yazdi, respectively — captured approximately 70% of the seats. Given that the Durability Front either had no representatives in many small towns or shared its representatives with the United Coalition Front, the latter emerged victorious throughout rural Iran. But in bigger cities, the balance of power between these two prominent factions remains intact. In Tehran — where candidate lists from these two factions have the least amount of overlap, due to the highly politicized atmosphere of the capital — three out of five candidates who secured seats were on both lists. The same pattern applies to those candidates who will be competing for the remaining 25 seats in a runoff election in the coming weeks.
This runoff vote must be concluded before a concrete picture of the new parliaments’ composition emerges. Nevertheless, factional orientations of those candidates who managed to secure their seats in the first round of voting have clarified the makeup of the next parliament to a considerable extent.