"In the Majlis, the relative success of reformists and moderates looks likely to give Rouhani a strong mandate. It suggests both public and parliamentary support for the nuclear deal, as well as policies favourable to international investment."
The initial results of elections in Iran on Friday suggest that supporters of President Rouhani will expand their share of seats in both parliament (Majlis) and the Assembly of Experts. On current indications, conservatives are still set to be the largest group in parliament, and dominate the Assembly. But the loss of seats held by several prominent hardliners to more moderate candidates in both bodies, particularly in Tehran, is a significant symbolic victory for reformists, even if their influence remains limited. In the Majlis, the weakening of the position of hardliners is a positive development for Rouhani and for the continued implementation of the nuclear deal.
As the interior ministry has not yet published the official results from all provinces, the extent of gains by reformists and relative moderates is not clear. The majority of reports suggest that a joint reformist-moderate list is set to win 30% of parliamentary seats. This is the largest share of seats held by non-conservatives since 2004. But Iranian and international press outlets have reported conflicting numbers of votes for conservatives, hardliners (who are also considered conservatives) and independents. None of these groups are likely to hold a majority. Around 13% of parliamentary seats are likely to go to a runoff vote, which Iranian press reports say will not happen until April.
We think that the discrepancy in press reports is probably due in part to the large number of independent candidates, whose affiliation is not yet clear, as well as divisions within the conservative bloc, some of whom support Rouhani while others oppose the president. Reformists were largely barred from running for both bodies (the Guardian Council disqualified between 90-99% of reformist candidates), but a joint list of approved reformists, relative moderates and some conservatives made substantial gains in key districts.
Most notably, this joint list won all 30 parliamentary seats in Tehran, and 15 out of 16 of Tehran’s seats for the Assembly, ousting two prominent far-right clerics, including the chairman of the Assembly. That former president Rafsanjani, a key Rouhani ally, won the most votes in Tehran for his Assembly seat is a strong signal of support in the capital for more moderate voices to influence the selection of the next Supreme Leader. But the Guardian Council only approved 160 out of 800 candidates to run for the Assembly, meaning it is likely to remain conservative.
In the Majlis, the relative success of reformists and moderates looks likely to give Rouhani a strong mandate. It suggests both public and parliamentary support for the nuclear deal, as well as policies favourable to international investment. But at 60% countrywide, voter turnout was slightly lower than in 2012, suggesting that many voters are still apathetic or boycotted the process. Overall, Rouhani’s ability to implement reforms is still dependent on the Supreme Leader. And as MPs are known to switch alliances and affiliations, it will take some time for the political preferences of parliament as a whole to become more apparent, even after the official results are finalised.
Image: Azadi Tower, Tehran, Massoud Haydarpur, Creative Commons