million voters participated in the elections for the eighth Iranian parliament
(Majlis), on March 14, 2008. Since the Islamic Revolution (1979), the Majlis
has been one of the major pillars in Iranian politics. Under Iran's system of
clerical rule, ultimate power lies not with the Majlis or even the president,
but with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamene’i.
While the Majlis
has little influence on strategic policy making in Iran--especially with regard
to foreign policy--it still enjoys a high position as the main source of
legislation according to the Islamic Republic's Constitution. Included among
its major functions are drafting legislation; ratifying international treaties;
approving state-of-emergency declarations; examining and approving the annual
state budget; and, if necessary, even removing the president or his appointed
ministers from office.
In June 1981, the Majlis used its right to dismiss a president by impeaching
Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr for incompetence. Using no-confidence votes, it has often
made use of its right to topple ministers. For instance, it impeached President
Mohammad Khatami's Minister of Interior Abdollah Nuri, in June 1998.
Majlis' status and influence has varied over the years depending mainly on the
interaction between itself, the executive authority, and the regime's leadership.
Despite the wide authority granted to the Majlis by the constitution, a variety
of formal and informal restrictions are used to guarantee that it not
jeopardize the ruling leadership or basic guiding principles of the Islamic
Republic. The main restraints are provided by the Guardian Council, charged
with interpreting the Iranian constitution and ensuring the compatibility of
the legislation passed by the Majlis with the criteria of Islamic law (Shari'a)
and the constitution.
Guardian Council consists of 12 members: six clerics nominated by the supreme
leader and six jurists nominated by the head of the judiciary (selected in turn
by the supreme leader) and elected by the Majlis. In light of its composition
and vast authorities, the Guardian Council has become a major means used by the
ruling conservative elite to restrain and neutralize the Majlis. In addition,
the council is vested with the authority to supervise elections for the Majlis,
the presidency, and the Council of Experts (which supervises the supreme
leader, appoints his successor, and even dismisses him if he is found incapable
of fulfilling his responsibilities)--including qualifying all candidates.
for the 290 members of the Majlis are held every four years. Each province in Iran
is allocated a number of representatives according to the size of its
population. The province of Tehran is allocated the biggest number of
representatives (30). Five Majlis members represent the non-Muslim religious
minorities, and they are elected by their own communities (Christians, Jews,
members of the Majlis are elected through personal elections, most of them are
connected to one of the major factions in Iranian politics. Therefore, the
Majlis serves not only as a legislature but also as a central arena for
internal political struggles. During the last decade, the main political
struggle in Iran--reflected by parliamentary elections as well--has been taking
place between reformists and conservatives. While the conservative faction was
looking to maintain the basic principles of the Islamic Revolution, the
reformists have asserted since the mid-1990s, that the solution to Iran's
problems is in a deep change in Iranian political, social, and cultural
2000, the conservatives enjoyed a solid majority in the Majlis. In the 2000
elections, 12 conservative groups formed an alliance called The Front of the
Followers of the Imam's and Leader's Line (Jebhe-ye Piravan-e Khat-e Imam va
Rahbari) whose platform emphasized the need for improving the economic
conditions rather than for political reform. On the other hand, President
Khatami's supporters formed a coalition called The 2nd Khordad (named after the
Persian date of Khatami's election victory in the presidential poll of May 23,
1997). This coalition advocated greater freedom of the press, reform of
government bureaucracy, and encouraging private investment in the industry.
rate was around 67 percent, a record turnout for Majlis elections in Iran. The
2nd Khordad coalition won 190 out of the 290 seats, the conservatives won
around 60 seats, and the rest were identified as independent. In Tehran, the
reformists led by President Khatami's younger brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami,
won almost all of the 30 seats. The results reflected the growing public
support for the reformer camp, as was also evident from the reformer victories
both in the presidential elections (1997) and the municipal elections (1999).
Following the elections, reformer cleric Hojjat ul-Islam Mehdi Karoubi became
the new speaker.
reformer victory opened up a wide gap between the executive and
legislature--dominated by reformists--and the regime's conservative leadership.
The conservatives refused to acknowledge their defeat and initiated a campaign
aimed to prevent the Majlis from becoming the spearhead in implementing
authority vested to the Guardian Council, the conservatives were determined to
weaken the Majlis, neutralize its legislative authority, and restrict its
influence. Legislative initiatives by the Majlis to promote a series of liberal
and reformer bills, such as raising the age of minor marriages or preventing
the security forces from entering universities, were encountered with
conservative criticism and most of them were vetoed by the Guardian Council. An
initiative in 2000 to amend the press law in order to increase freedom of
speech resulted in an unprecedented intervention by the supreme leader. Stating
that the bill endangered state security and the religious faith, Ayatollah
Khamene'i prohibited the Majlis from continuing to debate it.
elections for the seventh Majlis approached, the conservatives were determined
to prevent the reformists from winning again. In light of growing public
disappointment at the reformists' failure to solve the economic problems and to
meet their promises concerning political and cultural change, the conservatives
tried to adopt a new image that would enable them to project themselves as a
Contesting under the umbrella of The Islamic Iran Developers Coalition
(E'telaf-e Abadgaran-e Iran-e Islami), the neo-conservatives put economic
reform at the top of their agenda. Their emphasis on state-building and
development combined with asserting the ideological values of the Islamic
Republic gave them the opportunity to distinguish themselves from the
traditional conservatives and to appeal to public support based on an alternate
vision of reform.
adopting a new image and platform was not the only strategy used by the
conservatives in order to ensure their victory. The Guardian Council used its disqualification
authority to ban more than 2,500 candidates--mostly reformists, including
several dozen incumbent MPs. Even after a public denunciation by President
Khatami and Speaker Karoubi and an appeal made by the supreme leader for the
council to reconsider the rejected candidates, it refused to withdraw its
decision and approved only a few hundred additional candidates.
turnout was around 51 percent, higher than predicted by the reformists (some of
them called for boycotting the poll) but much lower than previous elections.
The conservatives won more than 160 seats while the reformists won around 40
seats. Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, who led the Abadgaran coalition, became the new
Ahmadinejad's election as president in June 2005 has completed the
neo-conservative takeover of Iranian elected political institutions. Although
he himself was identified with the Abadgaran coalition and was supported by its
members prior to the presidential elections, it was not long before his policy
aroused opposition from his previous supporters. Ahmadinejad faced his first
political challenge while trying to form his government. Several of his
ministerial nominees, including three of his candidates for the influential oil
ministry, were rejected by the Majlis for having insufficient experience.
president's populist approach and his failure to fulfill his electoral campaign
promises to improve the Iranian people's economic conditions brought about
growing tensions within the conservative camp. Two years after his election,
Ahmadinejad's economic policy became his government's Achilles’ heel. Not only
had his policy failed to improve the economic conditions, but it even caused
the economic situation to deteriorate as reflected in high inflation and unemployment
rates as well as declining economic growth rates. The economic figures have
provoked a wave of criticism against Ahmadinejad and his government's policy
even within the Majlis. A report concerning the state annual budget and its
influence over the national economy published by the Majlis research center assessed the annual
inflation rate as 23.4 percent. This rate was almost twice as high as predicted
by the perennial economic program and the highest rate in over a decade.
last year prior to the parliamentary elections, the president faced severe
criticism from senior conservative officials over his economic conduct. Former
commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), Mohsen Reza'i, slammed
Ahmadinejad over high inflation saying that the government's policy of
injecting huge amounts of liquidity to fund local infrastructure projects was
the main cause of price increases. His criticism was echoed by conservative
deputy speaker of the Majlis, Mohammad Reza Bahonar, who lashed out at the
president who had once quipped that his cabinet members had to match his speed
of 160 kilometers-per-hour. "Someone who drives at such speed should be
more careful about his performance," Bahonar said.
parliamentary elections were thus held amidst growing criticism over the
president's economic policy. The electoral campaign and the electoral
strategies of both conservatives and reformists were influenced to a large
extent by Ahmadinejad's government's economic shortcomings. Just like the
municipal elections in December 2007, which represented a major setback for the
the parliamentary elections were also considered to be an indication of
Ahmadinejad's political status.
DILEMMA AND ELECTORAL STRATEGY
elections approached, the conservatives faced a difficult dilemma concerning
which political strategy to adopt. On the one hand, they had learned the lesson
from their failure to form a unified list of candidates during the December
2006 municipal elections, which was one of the reasons for their relative
setback. In order to increase their political prospects, they had to overcome
the differences within the conservative camp--mainly between the government's
supporters and its critics. Efforts to present a unified conservative bloc
could have been jeopardized by further criticism against the government. On the
other hand, standing by the government's side and expressing unambiguous
support for its policy could have made the whole conservative camp responsible
for the government's shortcomings.
conservatives were thus obliged to adopt a cautious strategy that consisted of
three main components: An attempt to present a unified front backed by dominant
conservative officials, including figures known to be critical of President
Ahmadinejad and his policy; making a distinction between the seventh Majlis and
the government through justifying some of the criticism against the government
yet avoiding discrediting the government entirely; and carrying an offensive
against the reformer camp aimed to present them as subjected to extreme
elements within the reformer coalition.
to present a joint conservative platform was reflected in a statement published
by the conservatives in June 2007. It consisted of 20 articles and was intended
to present the public with a broad consensus regarding the main issues. The
statement stressed the need to keep adhering to Islamic principles in state
management, expressed its support for the concept of "The Guardianship of
the Islamic Jurist" (Velayat-e Faqih), emphasized the need to establish
state and society upon justice, to promote Iran's regional and international
status, to strengthen national solidarity spirit, to struggle against poverty
and corruption and to promote people's welfare, to continue the economic
privatization policy, to struggle against American hegemony and "Israeli
governmental terror," to strengthen Iran's relations with the Muslim world
and its neighbors, to maintain the unity of the conservative camp, and to act
in a way that would result in its success in the forthcoming elections.
following months, senior conservatives emphasized the need for unity within
conservative ranks. Majlis Speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel said that the
slightest discord among conservatives was equivalent to committing suicide. He
asserted that the conservatives would not succeed in winning the elections
unless they reached a consensus on a single candidate list. His deputy, Mohammad Reza Bahonar,
stated at a gathering of members of the Islamic Society of Engineers from
Esfahan that the return of the Osulgarayan (Principlists) to power was made
possible through great effort and difficulty and they should therefore not
allow differences of opinion to lead them to losing their seats and letting the
reformists regain power. He went on to say that the differences of opinion and
the divisions evident during the municipal elections resulted in a lesser
victory for the Principlists, and the various conservative factions should
therefore be brought closer together.
In an attempt
to iron out their internal differences, the conservatives established several
committees comprised of representatives from different conservative groups.
These so-called "six-plus-five committees" were assigned the task of
forming an agreed list of candidates. Following several months of discussions,
the conservatives managed to form The United Front of Principlists (UFP,
Jebhe-ye Mottahed-e Osulgara'i). The UFP brought together several groups
representing three main new conservative factions identified to a large extent
with President Ahmadinejad's associates: The Front of the Followers of the
Imam's and Leader's Line (Jebhe-ye Piravan-e Khat-e Imam va Rahbari), The
Self-Sacrificers Association (Jam'iyat-e Ithargaran), and The Scent of Good
Service faction (Rayehe-ye Khosh Khedmat). Efforts were made to convince
several senior conservative figures, including President's Ahmadinejad's
political rivals, to support the UFP. Among those figures were Ali Larijani,
the supreme leader's representative in the Supreme National Security Council,
who resigned his post as the Council's secretary in October 2007 amid reports
concerning differences of opinion between him and Ahmadinejad; former Commander
of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) Mohsen Reza'i; and Tehran
Mayor Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf, one of Ahmadinejad's major political opponents.
These efforts, however, remained largely futile. Reza'i and Ghalibaf were not
persuaded to back the UFP. A few days before the elections, Larijani's office
issued a statement expressing his support for the UFP although he himself decided to avoid
further controversies concerning the conservative candidate list in Tehran and
to stand for the Qom constituency instead.
a short while before the elections, a UFP rival group emerged. Called The Broad
Coalition of Principlists (E'telaf-e Faragir-e Osulgarayan), this group
included several of the president's critics. Asked why the new conservative
coalition was founded, one of its cofounders, MP Mohammad Khoshchehreh, said
that "opinion polls showed that people's attitude toward Principlists was
not what certain figures claimed, so we felt it was necessary to form this
coalition." Considering the coalition's platform, he said, all
Principlists had the same objectives but the problem was how their plans were
The conservatives' uniting efforts faced another blow as Iranian former
minister of intelligence, Ali Fallahian, who was excluded from the UFP,
announced he would run a third Principlist group.
the efforts to form a unified front, an attempt was made to lower the level of
criticism from within the conservative camp against the government, which could
be politically damaging to the conservatives altogether. While stressing that
one of the Majlis' responsibilities was to criticize the government, the
conservatives were doing their best to avoid criticism that might damage their
entire bloc. This approach was reflected in an editorial, published by the
conservative daily Resalat that urged the conservatives not to remain silent in
light of the "destructive attempts against the government." Although
the Principlists could criticize each other and the government, Resalat
asserted, it was worth mentioning that the fate of the Principlists and the
ninth government were closely integrated and that failure to support this
government could mean the conservatives' failure in forthcoming elections as
their attempt to keep the conservative camp as united as possible, the
conservative incumbent MPs also considered it necessary to distance themselves
from the government in order not to be held responsible by the public for its
economic failures. This strategy was reflected a few weeks before the elections
when a public dispute erupted between the Majlis and the president. President
Ahmadinejad refused to sign several Majlis ratifications that were intended to
overturn his decisions to dissolve several institutions, including the Money
and Credit Council, as well as his abolition of daylight saving time. He had
complained that these ratifications concerned the executive branch rather than
the legislative body and therefore contradicted the constitution.
response, Majlis Speaker Haddad-Adel asked the supreme leader to intervene and
sought his opinion. In a letter to the speaker, Khamene’i responded that all
legislation that had gone through the procedures stipulated in the constitution
must be respected by all branches of power. Reading aloud the leader's letter
at the Majlis session, Haddad-Adel said that he was surprised by the
president's stance. He noted that it was only the Guardians Council’s
prerogative to decide whether legislation was in accordance with the
constitution and said that he had already given an order to include the bills
in the official statute book despite the president's refusal to sign them.
component of conservative strategy was to try to discredit the reformists. In
light of reformer attempts to present a moderate and realistic image, the
conservatives were trying to present the reformer coalition as being held
hostage by extreme and liberal factions. An editorial published by hardline
Iranian daily Javan, for instance, suggested that the radical factions of the
2nd Khordad Front were hiding behind the moderate figures of the reformer camp
and that the moderate reformists were actually managed by "extremist
tendencies." The people had to be told, the daily wrote, that the
extremist elements in the guise of moderates were trying to restore their
Bush's radio address prior to his visit to the Middle East in January 2008, in
which he expressed his support for "democrats and reformists from Beirut
and Baghdad to Damascus and Tehran," was immediately seized on by the
conservatives to discredit their political rivals. Ayatollah Khamene’i reacted
angrily to President Bush's declaration saying that American support for anyone
in Iran was a disgrace and that they should question why America wanted to
Shariatmadari, editor of the hardline Keyhan was even more explicit. In an
editorial entitled "Why Should It Not Provide Support?,"
Shariatmadari wrote that even reformists' reactions following President Bush's
address denying U.S. support for them did not hide broad American support for
the reformer front. Considering the reformists’ statements and actions--which
are coordinated with American views and intentions, such as calling for the
suspension of uranium enrichment, casting doubt over the purity of the
forthcoming elections, and even calling for international observation of
elections--the question is not why the United States openly and officially
supports the reformists, but rather why shouldn't the Americans and their
allies provide their support. The reformists should reconsider their
standpoints and policies as they cannot simultaneously express President Bush's
rhetoric in their political paces and denounce the American support given to
were also trying to draw public attention from the economic issue to other
issues in which the reformists were considered to enjoy less public support,
such as foreign policy. Conservative senior MP Elias Naderan, for example,
accused the reformists of accepting a compromise over Iran's nuclear rights. In
a session held by the women's section of the UFP, Naderan criticized the
reformer MPs for imposing pressure on the Iranian nuclear negotiating team
during the term of the sixth Majlis and urging them to agree to Western demands
concerning the Iranian nuclear program, which contradicted Iranian national
STRATEGY AND CONCERNS
after losing their dominance in the Majlis and almost three years after losing
their hold over the executive, the elections for the eighth Majlis were
considered by the reformer camp as a golden opportunity to regain at least some
of their previous political power. Following their major electoral setbacks,
the reformists had gone through a process of self-criticism, which was evident
in the strategy they adopted during the 2008 election campaign.
lesson from their relative success at the December 2006 municipal elections,
the reformists were also making efforts to form a unified list of candidates.
The main obstacle toward forming such a list was the controversy between the
National Trust Party (Hezb-e E'temad-e Melli), led by Mehdi Karoubi, and
several groups that were part of the 2nd Khordad coalition. A few months before
the elections, the Fars News Agency revealed the content of a letter sent by
National Trust Party Spokesman Isma'il Garami-Moqaddam to Mohsen Mirdamadi,
secretary-general of the Participation (Mosharekat) Party, one of the major
groups within the reformer coalition. In this letter Garami-Moqaddam criticized
the "extremist tendencies" characterized by the Participation Party
as well as by the Mujahidin of the Islamic Revolution Organization, another
reformer faction. He even held those groups responsible for past reformer
political defeats and for the grim situation faced by the reformists.
himself criticized his fellow reformists. In an exclusive interview with
Newsweek, he called former President Khatami a weak political leader and said
his allies were extremists "who questioned the Islamic component of the
Those accusations were used by the conservatives in order to support their
claim that the reformer coalition continued to represent radical tendencies
acknowledged even by the moderate reformists themselves. The division among
reformists led to the National Trust Party’s decision to take part in the
elections under an independent banner and platform, although almost half of the
candidates in both the National Trust Party and the Reformer Coalition lists
were the same. Another reformer list representing The Popular Coalition of
Reformists (E'telaf-e Mardomi-ye Eslahtalaban) was led by Fatemeh Karoubi, wife
of Mehdi Karoubi.
component in reformer strategy was an attempt to recruit the support of senior
reformer figures in order to expand the public support given to reformer
candidates and to strengthen the reformer coalition image as moderate, pragmatic,
and responsible. This image was necessary in order to attract votes from among
the more conservative elements of the Iranian public, who still regarded the
reformer platform’s adherence to political reforms and civil rights as
constituting a potential threat to the basic values of the Islamic Revolution.
The most important senior official recruited by the reformists was former
President Mohammad Khatami, who was still thought to enjoy broad public
support. Khatami refused the attempts to persuade him to be a candidate in the
elections, but agreed to use his public status in order to promote the reformer
electoral campaign. Several months before the elections, the reformists even
implemented a strategy of sending Khatami on provincial trips with the aim of
attracting more votes.
significant strategy used by the reformists was to place the economic issue at
the top of their agenda. Drawing conclusions from their past defeats, the
reformists had realized that the economic problems were the main issue that
occupied the Iranian people's minds and that the past achievements of the new
conservatives were made possible to a great extent due to their use of economic
and social slogans and their promises to improve economic conditions in Iran.
Emphasizing the economic issue over political reforms was evident throughout
the election campaign. This strategy was reflected by Shams Aldin Vahabi,
chairman of the Participation Party's Electoral Bureau. Vahabi was quoted by
the Norooz reformer website saying that according to public surveys carried out
by his party, most of the public concerns focused on socioeconomic issues and
most of the people favored economic reforms over political reforms. The two
major problems raised by the public were inflation and the housing crisis. The
economic issue would thus be placed on top of the agenda of the next Majlis,
which should be dominated by MPs capable of supervising the government's
to win public support, the reformists exploited the government's economic
shortcomings in every possible way. While the conservatives tried to make a
distinction between the government's policy and the Majlis' conduct, the
reformists were trying to present both organs--which were dominated by the
conservatives--as responsible for the deteriorating economic conditions. Aware
of the growing criticism with regard to the president's economic policy,
reformists referred to the elections as a referendum on the government's
policy. This strategy was reflected by senior reformer activist Ebrahim
Asgharzadeh who said in an interview to reformer Aftab-e Yazd daily that
without the Majlis' support, silence, or passivity, Ahmadinejad's policy could
not have been fully implemented. The forthcoming elections were therefore a
referendum for the conservatives and especially for the government's policy.
a UFP statement emphasizing the need to control inflation and to improve the
people's living conditions, the reformists launched an offensive against the
conservatives accusing them of using old slogans in order to disguise their
failures. Rasoul Montakheb-Nia, a member of the National Trust Party's Central
Council, was quoted by the Sarmayeh economic daily as saying that four years
after the conservatives took over the Majlis and more than two years after they
took over the presidency, it had become obvious that their economic slogans and
promises were not fulfilled and could no longer be accepted. The conservatives,
he added, had proven that they were incapable of restraining the inflation and
both the government and the Majlis were to blame for this failure.
reformer press joined the efforts to criticize the conservatives' economic
management. An editorial by Abbas Pazouki in the Mardom Salari reformer daily
entitled "Principlists and the Inefficiency Crisis" asserted that if
the Iranian people voted for adherents of Principleism, it would mean that they
were happy with their situation and had no problems with housing, marriage,
employment, inflation, and the high cost of living. Yet if the "rules of
the game" were observed, the daily said, then “those who were sitting on
the other side of the table" (the conservatives) would have to leave and
return their seats to the reformists.
the mass disqualifications of reformer candidates by the Guardian Council
before the 2004 parliamentary elections, the reformists expressed their concern
over the possibility that their candidates would again be disqualified. Their
concern increased after Council Spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhoda'i stated that the
council would not allow ineligible individuals to enter the Majlis. Several
months prior to the elections, Kadkhoda'i stated that the pre-election vetting
of candidates would be carried out with the utmost precision, based on existing
evidence and records, and that the council would not allow those candidates who
did not deserve to become MPs to make it into the Majlis.
growing concern of the reformists, former Presidents Ali Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami urged the authorities to organize free and fair
elections. "The way to strengthen the system in the face of external enemy
threats and [to] prevent… [internal] divisions is to organize free and fair
elections," Rafsanjani said in comments reported by the press. "I
hope that the political climate will be healthy so we can take part in
elections as much as the law allows," he added. In a speech in the northern town of
Tabriz, former President Khatami also appeared to criticize the Guardian
Council’s vetting process. "A strong participation by the electorate will
allow us to reduce or prevent the narrow-mindedness of some," he said.
"The organizers of elections have heavy responsibilities: Respecting the
political climate and allowing competition between the candidates."
concern shared by the reformists considered the possible involvement in the
political process in favor of the conservatives by the Iranian Armed Forces and
especially the IRGC. Despite the ban of the leader of the Islamic Revolution
Ayatollah Khomeini on the Armed Forces' involvement in political affairs, such involvement by
the IRGC in favor of the conservative faction has been evident for years.
Following the July 1999 student riots, for example, 24 IRGC senior commanders
sent a letter to President Khatami stating that they would take the law into
their own hands in order to protect the revolution, unless the president
cracked down on demonstrators. It thus became evident that the IRGC was
opposing the reform movement and that it would even take action, if necessary,
to uphold the interests of the Islamic regime.
the elections, in an interview with the conservative Rasa News Agency, Hojjat
ul-Islam Ali Sa'idi, representative of the supreme leader in the IRGC, said
that even though the IRGC would not support or act in favor of any specific
party, political group, or candidate, it would be sensitive with regard to
events concerning the revolution and its future. Sa'idi stated that while the
Armed Forces should not raise the flag of any specific party, it could advocate
lofty criteria according to which candidates should be elected.
commander in Ghazvin was even more explicit when he urged his audience during a
ceremony to ensure that a Majlis like the sixth Majlis (in which the reformists
held a majority) would not be reelected. He said that the elections should
reflect the criteria determined by Ayatollah Khomeini and the supreme leader
and that the Majlis should be deposited in the hands of pious and proper people
and not unworthy candidates who might "pollute" it. Joint Chief of Staff General Hassan
Firouzabadi of the Iranian military also made reference to the political
developments. He described Ahmadinejad as a “responsible,
honest role model” and harshly attacked dozens of
former reformer MPs from the sixth
Majlis as “a bunch
of people manipulated and employed by the West, who write letters to
the supreme leader asking him to surrender to Bush and
who staged a sit-in in the Majlis.” Firouzabadi called on the public “not to
vote for manipulated individuals"
and not to allow individuals who move towards the United States and the West to
enter the Majlis.
interference in the elections reached its peak in the support reflected by IRGC
commander Mohammad Ali Ja'fari in favor of the conservatives. At a conference of
student members of the Basij (IRGC volunteer-based paramilitary force) in
Tehran, Ja'fari stated that supporting the Principlists was necessary and was
even considered a divine duty for all revolutionary forces in Iran. He called
on the Basij members to strengthen and promote the Principlists. Basij members,
he said, had to support the Principlist trend, which had been revived after 27
years and had taken over the executive and the legislature.
of the Armed Forces prior to the elections had become so evident that it even
aroused the criticism of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's grandson. In a rare
public statement, Hojjat ul-Islam Hassan Khomeini said in an interview with the
Shahrvand-e Emrooz weekly that his late grandfather had wanted the military to
stay out of politics. Those who claim to be loyal to the imam, he said, should
be very sensitive to his order concerning the presence of the military in
candidates, including almost 600 women, registered for the elections.
Reformists' concerns regarding the vetting process began to be realized when
about 3,000 prospective candidates, most of them reformists, were disqualified
by the Interior Ministry Executive Electoral Committees. These committees were
tasked with screening the candidates by gathering information from the police,
intelligence ministry, the judiciary, and by making local inquiries. According
to Abdollah Naseri, the reformer coalition spokesman, more than 50 percent of
the coalition's candidates were disqualified throughout the country.
Practically all candidates of the Iranian Islamic Participation Front and the
Organization of the Islamic Revolution's Mujahidins were rejected. Seventy
percent of the National Confidence party candidates were also rejected. Among those
disqualified were also incumbent reformer MPs, past cabinet ministers,
reformists who had served as MPs at the sixth Majlis, and high ranking
Interior Ministry executive committee's decision to disqualify most reformer
candidates provoked widespread condemnations. The Islamic Participation Front
published a statement saying that the extent of rejections was unprecedented and
that Ahmadinejad's government proved that not only was it incapable of
administrating the country properly, but also of organizing fair and just
Abdollah Naseri told the Mehr News Agency that the reformer coalition held
talks with a number of high-ranking officials to seek their support in order to
endorse the candidacy of disqualified hopefuls. Former President Khatami labeled the
mass disqualification as a "catastrophe" threatening the Islamic
Revolution. The trend of disqualifications, he said, jeopardized the
revolution, the system, and the credibility and best interests of society. Khatami also
held discussions with Rafsanjani and Karoubi aimed at deciding upon a strategy
that would avoid sweeping disqualification by the Guardian Council. The three
senior political figures decided to hold consultations with all concerned
bodies and officials, including the supreme leader and members of the Guardian
Council, to express their concerns regarding the vetting of candidates and to
allow banned reformer and moderate conservative candidates to stand in the
polls. The trio also decided, however, that all parties should be encouraged to
participate actively in the elections under any circumstances.
disqualification process even raised the objection of some conservative
figures. Ahmad Tavakoli, a leading conservative MP and chairman of the Majlis
Strategic Research Center, even wrote an open letter to the Guardian Council
criticizing the number of disqualifications and urging it to broaden the circle
of qualified candidates. Tavakoli pointed out that the extent of the
disqualifications had led to concern among "friends and supporters of the
Islamic Revolution" and warned that massive disqualification of Majlis
hopefuls would lead to a low voter turnout.
the criticism over mass disqualifications, the Guardian Council finally announced
that it had reinstated more than 1,000 candidates who had been disqualified
earlier by the Interior Ministry executive committees and the Guardian Council
supervisory committee. A total of 4,600 parliamentary hopefuls were allowed to
run. Reformer coalition Spokesman Abdollah Naseri, however, dismissed as
"propaganda" claims by some Iranian media outlets that the scene was
now set for competitive elections.
decision to disqualify most of their candidates had brought the reformists to
scale down their expectations for the elections. Reformer senior activist
Mohammad Salamati said that the reformists could run for only 70 to 80 seats in
the Majlis because the composition of at least 200 seats was fixed in advance in
favor of the conservatives.
A week prior to the elections, the reformists announced that they would not
present candidate lists in Esfahan and Tabriz, as most of the reformer
candidates in those constituencies had been disqualified.
response to the mass banning of candidates, Mohammad Reza Aref, former first
vice-president in the Khatami government who was supposed to lead the reformer
list in the Tehran constituency, decided to pull out of the election race. The
reformer coalition declared that mass vetoing of candidates was the reason
behind his decision.
Shortly afterwards, three other candidates allowed to participate in the
elections also announced their decision to drop out. Among those was Ayatollah
Khomeini's grandson, Ali Eshraqhi, who was initially disqualified by the
Interior Ministry executive committees but later approved by the supervisory
committee appointed by the Guardian Council. His sister, Zohra Eshraghi, told
reporters that her brother’s decision to quit the electoral race was the result
of harsh personal insults following his criticism against mass
Former Head of the Iranian Organization for Atomic Energy Reza Amrollahi and
reformer activist Fatemeh Tondguyan also announced their dropping out.
the disqualification process, however, reformists were decisive in their
decision to participate in the elections. In a statement released three weeks
prior to the elections, the reformer coalition declared that it was determined
to contest the elections. Pointing to the importance of the upcoming elections,
it stated that despite the fact that the coalition was short of candidates, since
so many were not allowed to participate in the elections, it would participate
in all constituencies where it had nominees. Former President Khatami also urged
reformists to contest seriously the elections, even though they could not
compete in “most of the constituencies.” He expressed that reformists should
not miss out on the opportunity, no matter how small.
facing some difficulties to come up with a complete 30-candidate list in
Tehran, the reformer coalition finally managed to present its final list. It
was headed by one of Khatami's former vice-presidents, Majid Ansari; former
Minister of Industries and Mines Eshaq Jahangiri; and former Deputy Foreign
Minister Mohammad Sadr.
candidate lists were also presented about a week prior to the elections. The
UFP 30-candidate list in Tehran was led by Majlis Speaker Haddad Adel. Last
efforts to present a unified conservative list failed and the Broad Coalition
of Principlists presented its own 30-candidate list as well. This coalition,
however, also put Haddad Adel on top of its list and one-third of conservative
candidates were common to both lists.
RESULTS AND ANALYSIS
Turnout and Main Results
in the first round of elections, as reported by the Iranian Interior Ministry,
was about 60 percent; however, actual turnout seemed to be lower. Although less
than the turnout reached at the elections for the sixth Majlis, it was much
higher than that of previous elections. The percentage of voter turnout could
be viewed by the authorities as an achievement, especially considering the fact
that the elections took place during the course of final preparations for the
Iranian new year (Norooz) and in light of new restrictions on election
propaganda--including a ban on posters or placards in public areas. Turnout in
Tehran was lower and reached only 40 percent. Turnout in the second round of
elections, held on April 25, 2008, was much lower and was only around 25
won an expected victory, taking more than 200 seats divided between the two
conservative lists. Reformists succeeded to hold on to their respectable
minority in the seventh Majlis, winning over 50 seats--more than half of them
went to the main reformer coalition and the rest to the E'temad-e Melli party's
candidates. Independent candidates won about 40 seats.
the conservatives won 29 out of 30 seats. Seventh Majlis Speaker Haddad Adel
became the front-runner in Tehran while only one reformer candidate made it to
the top 30 places allocated for the Tehran constituency.
Larijani was elected with over 75 percent of the vote from Qom, opening the way
for a political race against Haddad Adel over the Majlis' chairmanship, which
Larijani would win.
the conservatives overwhelming victory, both political factions presented the
results as an achievement. Conservative officials and press stressed the solid
majority won by their candidates while disregarding the internal divisions in
the conservative bloc. Reformer figures hailed their performance in the
elections as a "remarkable success," emphasizing the fact that they
maintained their political position despite the difficult conditions they faced
following the banning of most of their candidates. "Taking into account
the situation of the country and the restrictions... we managed a remarkable
success," said the spokesman of the reformer coalition, Abdollah Naseri. In an
editorial published by the reformer daily E'temad-e Melli, it was written that
the next Majlis was likely to become more pluralist considering the large
impact of reformer and independent MPs and the fragility of the conservatives.
With more than 40 conservative elected MPs associated with the Broad Coalition
of Principlists identified with the government's critics, the daily asserted,
implementing the plans of the UFP could be prevented.
previous elections campaigns in Iran, various complaints concerning the method
of counting votes and results followed the elections. Reformists claimed, for
example, that their observers were denied access to voting stations and that
the Interior Ministry did not allow the presence of journalists not associated
with the government in the central election headquarters during the counting of
election results clearly demonstrated the serious predicament of the Iranian
reformer movement. The reformists succeeded in maintaining the political
position they held in the seventh Majlis. Given the barring of most of their
candidates, they actually did better than might have been expected. Their
relative success, nonetheless, cannot hide the fact that they had failed to
restore the position they enjoyed less than a decade ago and that their chances
to do so in the near future seem slim. The conservatives' success in
neutralizing the reformists; the disappointment of Iranian voters concerning
their past inability to implement their vision; their inner divisions; and
their inability to come up with a clear, practical alternative capable of
providing real solutions to the country's problems make the reformists
irrelevant to a large extent.
grave situation was clearly reflected in an exclusive interview given by
political analyst Sadegh Zibakalam to the reformer website, Rooz. Zibakalam
said that even if a miracle happened and every single reformer candidate was
qualified to run for a seat, and even if 100 or 200 reformer candidates won
seats in the eighth Majlis, the reformists could not do more than what was done
in the sixth Majlis. Reformists, he said, lacked a coherent, orderly, and
realistic program to push reforms through the system. They were not seriously
engaged in a process of self-criticism following the eight-year term of
President Khatami and they refrained from asking themselves what they had done
Ahmadinejad’s rise to power might have given the impression that Iranian
politics was going through a process of radicalization. The parliamentary
elections campaign, however, represented a different reality. Religious and
revolutionary slogans--once the staple of conservative campaigns--were
neglected. Instead, the conservatives adopted a more pragmatic language
focusing on the need to deal with Iran's economic difficulties and to promote
economic development and reconstruction.
had also gone through a process of pragmatization and centralization. The
reformer political vision--which concentrated during the late 1990s on the need
to promote democratization, civil society, and human rights--faded in light of
the socioeconomic agenda. This centralization process is likely to bring the
reformists and the moderate-conservatives closer together and might narrow the
ideological gaps between former political rivals.
All About the Economy, Stupid!
elections had shown very clearly that the economy had become the major issue on
the Iranian political agenda. Each of the political groups had placed this
issue at the top of the agenda. Both the reformists and the conservatives
explicitly cited the fight against inflation as the central aspect of their
not necessarily mean that either the reformists or the conservatives hold a
clear and effective plan capable of solving the economic crisis. It does,
however, represent the obvious preference given by most Iranians to
socioeconomic issues over other issues, including foreign policy and political
Warning Sign for Ahmadinejad?
elections were considered a barometer for President Ahmadinejad's popularity by
most observers. In light of the election results it seems likely that
Ahmadinejad should expect more challenges both from within the reformists as
well as from his opponents among the pragmatic conservatives who seemed to
increase their political position in the Majlis. Furthermore, the pragmatic
conservatism associated with several of his political rivals, such as Ali
Larijani or Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, might also increase the challenge to
Ahmadinejad in preparation for the upcoming 2008 presidential elections. The
results, however, do not represent a major setback to the president's position
and should not be necessarily be regarded as a warning sign to him for the
upcoming presidential elections. Ahmadinejad is likely to face growing
criticism against his populist economic policy as well as against his
provocative public statements. It seems, however, that he still enjoys
considerable public support, mainly among the lower strata of Iranian society,
and that his political rivals still have to prove their popularity. It is,
therefore, too early to predict the prospects for his re-election.
"Secularization" of the Iranian Political System
the first Majlis clerics exceeded non-clerics by a small margin, the number of
clerical deputies fell to 87 in the third Majlis, 67 in the fourth, 53 in the
fifth, 35 in the sixth, and rose slightly, to 41, in the seventh Majlis. According to
partial election results, the number of clerics elected to the eighth Majlis
was a little more than 30, the lowest since the revolution. The small percentage of clerics
included in all political lists, including that of the conservative coalition,
was clearly enough to arouse the criticism of the Jomhuri-ye Eslami daily,
associated with the traditional conservative establishment. "The higher
the presence of clerics in the Majlis …,” its editorial asserted, "the
better the continuity of the Revolution and the Islamic Republic's regime is
Parliamentary elections thus reflected the ongoing process of the diminishing
clerical presence in Iranian politics and their replacement by an increasing
number of technocrats--prominent figures including former members of the
Iranian Armed Forces and Revolutionary Guards. As explicitly described by Dilip
Hiro, more and more voters realized over the years that the clerical
politicians were no better than their non-clerical counterparts.
representation in the next Majlis will be the lowest since the third Majlis
(1988-1992). Only eight women were elected this time in comparison to four
women in the first, second, and third Majlis; nine in the fourth Majlis; 14 in
the fifth and sixth Majlis sessions; and 13 in the seventh. Those women elected
to the new Majlis are all conservative. Candidate lists for the Tehran
constituency included a handful of women. Even the reformists included only six
women on its 30-candidate list. Despite women's ongoing campaign to improve
their status in the Islamic Republic, Iranian legislature continues to be
dominated by men. Zahra Shoja'i, head of the reformer women's association,
responded to the decline in women's representation by saying that it was not
surprising in light of the weakness of women legislators in the seventh Majlis
and conservative women MPs’ support for discriminatory bills against women.
Indication for Regime Stability?
latest election campaign may serve as another indication of the maturity and
vitality of the Iranian political system. The elections for the eighth Majlis
was the twenty-ninth election campaign held since the Islamic Revolution.
Islamic regime has been facing ideological, political, and social challenges
since the 1990s. These challenges could eventually endanger its stability. It
seems, however, that the Iranian regime has so far succeeded to balance and
control those challenges. Those hoping to topple the allegedly unstable regime
and to bring about a change should therefore think twice. It seems that the
2008 parliamentary elections represent a desire for stability more than a
desire for an additional revolutionary upheaval.
Raz Zimmt is a research fellow at
the Center for Iranian Studies and a PhD candidate at the Graduate School of
Historical Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Who Rules Iran? The Structure of
Power in the Islamic Republic (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute
for Near East Policy, 2000), p. 58.
Ibid, pp. 58-59.
The Iranian Labyrinth: Journeys Through Theocratic Iran
and Its Furies (New York: Nation Books, 2005), pp. 50-51.
Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Mahjoob Zweiri,
Iran and the Rise of Its
Neoconservatives (London: I.B. Tauris, 2007), pp. 40-41.
Ali Gheissari and Vali Nasr,
Democracy in Iran: History and the
Quest for Liberty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006), p. 142.
The center was established in 1993 to
offer consulting and support services to the MPs and the Majlis committees. It
consists of MPs and professional advisors and was headed by conservative MP
Ahmad Tavakoli from 2004-2008.
April 11, 2007.
AFP, December 23, 2007.
Raz Zimmt, "Election Results for the
Assembly of Experts and Local Council: Preliminary Appraisal,"
Iran Pulse, No. 7
(December 22, 2006), http://www.tau.ac.il/humanities/iranian_studies/pulse7.eng.html.
Fars News Agency, June 23, 2007.
Mehr News Agency, September 5, 2007.
December 9, 2007.
Alef News Agency, March 11, 2008.
Mehr News Agency, February 20, 2008.
February 15, 2007.
December 15, 2007.
Aftab News Agency, January 21, 2008.
November 20, 2007.
President’s Radio Address, January 5,
Fars News Agency, January 5, 2008.
January 13, 2008.
January 9, 2008.
Fars News Agency, December 10, 2007.
March 7, 2008.
December 26, 2007.
Yazd, March 9, 2008.
December 31, 2007.
Salari, September 16, 2007.
November 24, 2007.
AFP, December 20, 2007.
On Khomeini's ban, see:
Norooz, January 26,
Rasa News Agency, January 3, 2008.
January 5, 2008.
http://www.roozonline.com, February 4, 2008.
February 2, 2008.
February 8, 2008.
February 9, 2008.
AFP, January 23, 2008.
Iran Press Service, January 24, 2008.
Meh News Agency, January 23, 2008.
February 6, 2008.
January 27, 2008; Aftab New Agency, January 27, 2008.
Press TV, February 10, 2008.
Reuters, February 16, 2008.
February 24, 2008.
March 3 & 5, 2008.
Mehr News Agency, February 6, 2008.
March 1, 2008.
Mehr News Agency, February 23, 2008.
Mehr News Agency, March 9, 2008.
AFP, March 15, 2008.
Melli, March 16, 2008.
March 15, 2008.
Rooz, February 18, 2008, http://www.roozonline.com.
It should be noted that in the 2005 presidential
elections Mohammad Baqer Ghalibaf came in fifth with less than 14 percent of
the votes, and Ali Larijani came in sixth with less than six percent of the
votes. Mohsen Reza'i withdrew from the race shortly before the elections.
Figures taken from an editorial published
February 26, 2008.
Eslami, March 18, 2008.
Eslami, February 26, 2008.
The Iranian Labyrinth, p. 48.
Norooz, May 3, 2008.