Iranians headed to the polls Friday in national elections that conservatives are once again expected to dominate parliament and other government bodies, constraining the ability of Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s pragmatist president, to push through reforms. The election once had the potential to be pivotal until almost every would-be candidate advocating reform was barred from running. But with only a limited number of moderates and reformers on the ballot, analysts say the election is unlikely to foreshadow a history-making moment of change in Iran. The election — the first since a nuclear deal lifted most of the international sanctions that had hobbled economic growth — is being closely watched nevertheless. “Our enemies have their covetous eyes trained on Iran,” said Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the country’s supreme leader, according to state TV. “People are advised to vote with discretion and foresight and disappoint the enemies.”
Though opposition activists call the election a sham, the vote totals could open a small window onto the Iranian appetite for change and Rouhani’s political future.
“It will be a major loss for the Iranian nation” if reformists do not win, former president Ayatollah Akbar Hasemi Rafsanjani, who left office in 1997, told Reuters.
Many Western officials hoped the nuclear deal’s implementation in January would pave the way for Rouhani to introduce measures granting civil liberties and less Internet censorship, as he promised when he was elected in 2013. Now the best-case scenario is that urbanized voters in Tehran give Rouhani a small but strong minority to support economic reform.