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Elections in Iran to decide if president’s reform policy has a future

February 26, 21:10 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
Hassan Rouhani

Hassan Rouhani

© EPA/IRAN PRESIDENTIAL OFFICIAL WEBSITE

MOSCOW, February 26. /TASS/. Iran’s elections to the national parliament and the clerical body called Assembly of Experts, empowered to appoint the Supreme Leader, are crucial to the country’s future development. Their outcome will largely determine whether President Hassan Rouhani will have a chance to go ahead with his reformist policies. In the eyes of the Iranian people Rouhani’s greatest achievements were the conclusion of the nuclear deal with the West and the eventual lifting of economic sanctions. Yet analysts are very cautious in their forecasts regarding the likely winner - the united coalition of politicians and moderate, reform-minded parties supportive of the incumbent president or the coalition of conservatives critical of Rouhani’s policy of rapprochement with the West.

The fundamentalists have controlled Iran’s political institutions for the past ten years. The government and the moderate forces are keen to change the situation, to gain control of parliament to ensure it should not confront the government or interfere with reforms.

"The elections are of exceptional importance first and foremost for President Rouhani himself," the senior research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Oriental Studies Institute, Vladimir Sazhin, told TASS. "Rouhani and his team need support from both the Iranian parliament and the Assembly of Experts. The current parliament is critical of many aspects of the president’s policies."

The split into reformers and fundamentalists is largely abstract, says Sazhin, an expert at the Russian International Affairs Council. "The political system is rather complex. Movements and factions are many. Among the fundamentalists there are liberals, pragmatics, moderates and radicals. The same applies to the reformers." All analysts, he said, just recently predicted that Rouhani’s reform-minded supporters would emerge the winners, because the conclusion of the nuclear deal with the international community had met with vast approval inside Iran. "This generated expectations of the reformers’ land-slide victory. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei was aware of that. The reformers getting a majority in parliament is not exactly what he would like to see. He needs a balance of forces. In that case it will be easier for him to govern from above. He needs dual power. If either side gains an advantage, the task will be far harder to cope with."

He did his utmost to disqualify many representatives of the reformers - both candidates for seats in the national parliament and on the Assembly of Experts. "The decision to bar from the election (after registration in the capacity of a candidate for the Assembly of Experts) Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the Islamic Republic’s founder Ayatollah Khomeini, is the brightest example. He always professed moderate, reformist views. The presence of a person of such authority on the Assembly of Experts would surely be of great risk to the fundamentalists."

Sazhin recalled that the Assembly of Experts consisted of 88 men, all of them Shi’ite clerics advanced in years. Hassan Khomeini, 43, was found too young for the position.

"The Assembly of Experts is a very important body. Under the Constitution the dismissal of the Supreme Leader and the appointment of a new one is its sole prerogative. The current supreme leader is nearly 76 and has cancer. It is very likely that a new Assembly of Experts, elected for eight years, will appoint a new leader. This explains why the rivalry is so acute."

The outcome of the elections is hard to predict, Sazhin warns: "Some analysts expect that if the turnout is as high as 70% the reformers will have good chances to win. If it is around 50%, the fundamentalists will have a competitive edge. The reformers will not gain an absolute majority in parliament anyway, but in combination with independent candidates they may form a majority to make it far easier for the president and his Cabinet of Ministers to address current foreign and domestic political and economic issues. A great deal is at stake for the Iranians."

"To put it in a nutshell, it is to be decided whether Rouhani’s policy has a future," the leading research fellow of the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Oriental Studies Institute, Vladimir Sotnikov, told TASS. "If conservatives have a majority of seats in a future parliament, they will slow down reform. Iran will either proceed along the reform track or be thrown back even despite the concluded nuclear program deal."

Of course, final political decisions are the prerogative of the Supreme Leader, Sotnikov agrees. "But he is ill. The stance of his successor will greatly depend on the relationship between the government and parliament. The role of parliament should not be underestimated. In the context of an Islamic democracy all branches of power have their say. If reformers gain considerable representation in parliament, any spiritual leader will have to take this into account."

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