President Hassan Rouhani unofficially kicked off next February’s parliamentary elections before a gathering of provincial governors on 26 May. “No political or sectarian belief should be discounted, for they are based in religion, science, and personal beliefs, and of course elections without competition are impossible,” Rouhani said. “We have different ideas in our society, and all are free to express their ideas. This is why we have various parties and persuasions.” Rouhani’s comments suggest he hopes to prepare the way for increased reformist participation in the majles (parliament). The president suggested he would resist attempts by far-right, fundamentalist elements to improperly leverage money, influence, or advertising in order to influence voters. “Hopefully no one will be told that so-and-so from the government, the Revolutionary Guards, the military, the media, the regional or local government, or the mosques, supports so-and-so as a candidate for the majles,” he said. “Such talk constitutes poison for otherwise healthy elections. All officials and people in positions of power are duty bound to serve the interests of the nation as a whole and not those of [particular] political parties or individuals.”
Has this given any encouragement to the reformists? In an interview with Tehran Bureau, a member of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, a leading party suspended since 2009, expressed cautious optimism.
“He’s certainly come out swinging, but he’ll eventually tone down the intensity as time passes,” she said. “He may be demanding today that these elections be on a par with those of Finland and the UK in terms of openness and freedom, but ultimately he’ll have to temper his expectations to something resembling Turkey’s elections. If his strategy gets results, it’ll be a step forward, since it should translate to more moderates and reformists and fewer fundamentalists in the majles.”