Election Results 1: Parliament

February 29, 2016

Garrett Nada and Katayoun Kishi 

The resounding message from voters on February 26 was a rejection of hardliners and an endorsement of President Hassan Rouhani. The largest faction in Iran’s new Parliament will be an array of moderates, conservatives and independents, who won more than half of the seats decided in the first round. Several dozen seats, which did not meet the threshold of 25 percent, will be contested at a run-off in April. So far, some 68 percent of lawmakers in the new Parliament will be newcomers, according to Shargh DailyThe vote may help Rouhani push forward long-stalled promises of reform opposed by hardliners, who have dominated the last three parliaments, since 2004. 
 
The election turnout was 62 percent, according to Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli. The election was the first since the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers concluded in July 2015. In the meantime, diverse Iranian media outlets have reported the story as if their preferred political groups did well in the election. Media and monitoring groups differed over the distribution of seats. The following is a rundown of key winners and losers. 
 
   
 
The Winners
 
The Universal Coalition of Reformists, dubbed the “List of Hope” by former President Mohammad Khatami, won the second largest number of seats nation-wide. In Tehran, the group won all 30 seats. The list was headed by Mohammad Reza Aref, a former presidential candidate and a vice president under Khatami. It blended in centrist supporters of President Hassan Rouhani from the “Alliance of Reformists and Government Supporters.” The list associated itself with the success of the nuclear deal, the lifting of international sanctions, and increasing normalization of Iranian political and economic relations with the outside world. It also supported greater personal and political freedoms. Its logo and slogan was “the second step,” or the sequel to Rouhani election in 2013. For this coalition, the election was also a referendum on the direction the country has taken under Rouhani. 
 
Many reformist candidates were disqualified by the 12-man Guardian Council, so the coalition was dependent on lesser known candidates. Endorsements from former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as well as Khatami gave the List of Hope a key boost.Khatami, whose image is banned from the media, issued a handwritten message about the elections. The following are excerpts:
 
  • “The impressive attendance of people during the Assembly of Experts and Parliament elections has this message that people want to preserve security, advance the country, and strengthen the system.”
  • “People want action on the slogans and plans that our honorable president has offered, and the people have voted for this.”
  • “…it is the administration and other branches of government, and in particular the honorable representatives of the people’s, turn to serve these people and meet their demands, in particular to attempt to develop the economic boom, open up people’s lives, and create an open space and healthy politics.”  
 
 
The group also tapped a few high-profile conservatives, such as Ali Motahari and Kazem Jalali—who ran with other slates as well. Motahari is a moderate conservative lawmaker who has criticized the government for putting the two Green Movement leaders and former presidential candidates under house arrest. Motahari actually fielded his own independent list called “Voice of the Nation.” In an interview before the elections, he said that hardliners do not place enough emphasis on freedoms while reformists do not pay enough attention to cultural issues.
 
In one of the quirks of the campaigns, Motahari also appeared on the reformist List of Hope, but he said the group added his name at their request. At a campaign rally, on February 23, he called for the removal of the “artificial wall” between reformists and principlists. Motahari has taken hardline stances on social issues. For example, he has opposed allowing women to enter sports stadiums. But he has also challenged policies of Iran’s security services and hardliners. In 2015, he spoke out against the widespread arrests of journalists by the Revolutionary Guards. In January 2016, he opposed the presence of Basij militia units in residential areas.
 
Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, a conservative who ran as an independent, won his seat from the holy city of Qom. On February 29, as election results were announced, he praised the rotation of political power from one group to another as an auspicious development. Larijani has referred to himself as a principlist, but he was largely supportive of the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers. Larijani chose not to join the main list of hardliners. “I feel our friends in the [conservative coalition] have not provided the necessary mechanisms for the creation of unity…Therefore we seek to act independently,” he said. Yet he won the backing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, who cited Larijani’s long support of “revolutionary movements.”
 
Women won 14 seats in the first round of the election—a record high--and are in the running to win as many as six more in the runoff. Nine women are in the outgoing Parliament. Of the 14 who have secured seats, eight ran on the “List of Hope.” 
 
Parvaneh Salahshori, who won as a reformist on the “List of Hope,” said women should be allowed to choose whether or not to wear the hijab, a sensitive subject in the Islamic Republic. She criticized conservative female lawmakers who have supported legislation restricting women’s rights.  She also “We want to empower our women, we want to empower our young people,” she told Italian journalist Viviana Mazza on February 29. “We are here to fight against [gender] discrimination.”
 
The main conservative list, the Grand Coalition of Principlists (which refers to support for a rigid interpretation of revolutionary principles) won more seats than any other group outright. Conservatives, however, will not have nearly as much sway over the next Parliament as compared to the last 12 years. The hardliners were largely opposed to Rouhani’s policies. Principlists campaigned on Rouhani’s failure to deliver on promises of economic benefits from a nuclear deal and the lifting of international sanctions.
 
The list’s slogan was “Livelihood, Security, and Progress.” It appeared on yellow banners at rallies and posters across the country. Unlike reformist candidates, the Guardian Council approved a large number of conservative and hardliners. As a result, candidates from the conservative list contested seats in provinces across Iran. One campaign poster in Isfahan asked voters which political faction they would rather have protecting them if ISIS fighters entered Iran.
 
The Losers
 
In Tehran, the Grand Coalition of Principlists failed to win any seats. It was headed by Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel, a member of parliament since 2000 and the first non-cleric to become speaker, in 2004. He has close ties to the supreme leader, as his daughter is married to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba. In a tweet, Haddad-Adel said that he was happy about the joy of fellow citizens who voted for his rivals. 
 
In the picture below, Haddad-Adel leaves Parliament through a door marked “exit.”
 
 
Esmail Kowsari, a prominent lawmaker and member of Parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, was also on the list. During the nuclear negotiations, he criticized the approach of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. In 2014, he attended a conference entitled “We’re Worried” – advertised as “the great gathering of critics of a weak deal”— held at the former U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Kowsari later accused the negotiating team of wasting the country’s time. Now that he has lost his seat, he has suggested that the results are “suspicious.”
 
 
Other candidates on the list included former advisors to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and outspoken critics of President Rouhani. They emphasized their economic backgrounds, with ten candidates who held senior economic positions in previous governments. They were hardline on foreign policy. Adel once warned against allowing American influence to permeate Iran’s economy and society. "Unfortunately, some [moderates] are embracing America and opening their arms to American companies,” he said. Six women were on the list of 30 candidates. 
 
 
 
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer, and Katayoun Kishi is a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace.