Elections in Teheran decided in Washington

The process and significance of elections differ from country to country and from political system to political system. There are also similarities. The electors vote and the elected take office and rule. The headlines are on the US presidential elections although yesterday Iranians also voted..

On Friday Iranians across the country voted in the country’s first election since its nuclear deal with world powers and for the 10th time in the Islamic Republic. The elections are for Iran’s Parliament for a four year term of office and for a cleric body, the Assembly of Experts. It is the first time that both bodies are being elected simultaneously.

Nearly 55 million of Iran’s 80 million citizens are eligible to vote.This means that 25 million or about one-third of the population are under the voting age of 18. This is a young and substantial number that did not know the Islamic Revolution, and who will enter the work force without international sanctions and most likely with Iran as a threshold nuclear power.

For those that are eligible to vote and it was expected that some 70% did; their choices hinged on both the policies of President Hassan Rouhani, as well as worries about the country’s economy, long battered by international sanctions. According to Payesh Online, a nationwide poll conducted by Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting indicates that most voters favour Moderate candidates 28%, Ahmadinejad allies 24%, Reformists 23%, and Principlists 13% while only 5% say for independents.

This means that 41% will vote for supporters of the current leaders Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Hassan Rouhani who is seen as a reformer while 24% approve and support former President Ahmadinejad who is seen as more conservative.

Unlike elections in the United States, not everyone eligible to vote can be elected. Although over 12000 candidates stood for election a further 5200 were prevented from standing for election by the Guardian Council, the supervisor of elections.

Despite this seemingly undemocratic interference only 285 seats are elected. Minorities can be represented without being elected. Five of the 290 seats are reserved for the Zoroastrians, Jews, Assyrian and Chaldean Christians and Armenians (one for Armenians in the north of Iran and one for Armenians in the south).  This is because some of the regulations stipulate that candidates must be over the age of 26, not insane and adherent to the Islamic faith.

Given the above the overriding question is why should the world care about the election results? The first answer is that the Parliament controls the budget and after the lifting of sanctions the state is going to get wealthier and man in the street is going to want more. If he doesn’t he may become revolutionary against the revolutionary movement. If he does then capitalism can sow its seeds as a positive force in the region. Either action will see a change in Iran especially as Presidential elections are due next year.

More significant are the elections for the 88 member Assembly of Experts that chooses the Supreme Leader, who holds the true power in Iran and not the President. Any and every party in the Assembly has a say in who will be the next Supreme Leader which is likely to be sooner than later given that the incumbent Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in his 70s and ill.

Candidates for both elections have only one week to campaign so the bottom line is that the elections are more of a referendum on feelings, views, opinions, allegiances and grievances. The results are still being counted where who counts them is as important as who votes.

The first indications are that the current President Rouhani has gained ground in 30 Parliamentary seats for Teheran as well in the Assembly of Experts. This is most likely because of the wave of popular optimism over his handling of the lifting of international sanctions whilst giving little in Iran’s nuclear program.

However there is still a way to go before the Finish Line as the parliamentary vote is likely to go to a second round in April. Candidates need 25% of the vote to win outright and there is an average of 17 candidates for each seat.

Regardless of the final results in Iran, this year in the elections for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts, next year for the President and soon for the Supreme Leader, the deciding factor will be in the results of the US Presidential elections in November. A Republican win maybe by Donald Trump is likely to see a dramatic difference to the entire Middle East.

About the Author
Dr Glen Segell is Fellow at the Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies, University of Haifa.
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