Feb 20, 2020 - World

Iran's hardliners look to consolidate control in parliamentary election

Electoral posters and a banner featuring Qasem Soleimani in Tehran. Photo: Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images

The narrowing of Iran's political spectrum will be demonstrated on Friday in parliamentary elections dominated by hardline candidates.

Driving the news: An estimated one-third of sitting parliamentarians were disqualified from participating, reformists were barred en masse, and boycotts are expected from portions of the increasingly disenfranchised population.

Why it matters:

  • For Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, having more hardliners at the helm of different institutions as he enters the eighth decade of his life is an insurance policy against change from within.
  • For hardline politicians, the conservative consolidation will make capturing the presidency in 2021 even easier.
  • For Hassan Rouhani, the current president, it will confirm his lame-duck status
  • For the Iranian people, who have been increasingly willing to protest since 2017, it is proof that change will not come through a highly-controlled “ballot-box.”
  • For Washington, although the parliament does not decide foreign policy, more hardliners will likely mean a more confrontational approach, especially on the nuclear issue.

Where things stand: Iran’s unelected Guardian Council, which vets candidates for elected office, disqualified just over half of the over 15,000 people who registered to run for the 290 seat Islamic Consultative Assembly (Majlis, in Persian).

  • Should some seats remain vacant, a second round of voting will be held in the spring.
  • This will be Iran's 11th parliament since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

What they’re saying: Khamenei has played to both Islamist and nationalist sentiment in a bid to get out the vote, going so far as to call voting a “religious duty.” He told Iranians to vote even if they don’t like him.

  • Conversely, reformist intellectuals and activists outside the country who have traditionally favored participation are now calling for an election boycott.

Flashback: The Islamic Republic also used the 2012 parliamentary vote — which followed a disputed presidential contest — to consolidate power and spin participation as a show of support during a critical time.

The bottom line: Faced with increasing domestic unrest and Washington’s ongoing maximum pressure campaign, Iranian authorities are looking to use the election to signal strength abroad by alleging popularity at home. If turnout is as low as expected, that will send the opposite message.

Behnam Ben Taleblu is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies

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