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Political Spectrum in Iran’s New Parliament

Garrett Nada
Iran’s new Majles, which holds its first session on May 28, has wider political diversity than any parliament in a dozen years. Some 60 percent of lawmakers are newcomers. Allies and supporters of President Hassan Rouhani form the largest faction, but not a majority. Hardliners held on to more than a quarter of Parliament’s 290 seats. The balance of power, however, is yet to be determined because independents won more than a quarter of the seats; many of their affiliations are unclear or could shift.
The social and professional make-up of parliament is also changing. Women won a record number of seats in the February election and April runoff. For the first time, females will outnumber clerics.
Iran’s system does not have formal parties, but it does have factions and coalitions that run together. The largest bloc in the parliament is the Faction of Hope, most of whom are aligned with Rouhani. The group claims support of up to 168 members. Hardliners claim to have at least 150 members. Some candidates ran as independents or even on multiple lists, so their affiliations are not clearly defined. Politicians also changed their positions closer to the election. Iranians jokingly referred to them as “Hezb-e Bad,” or “Party of the Wind.”
Iranian politics are also notoriously fluid. Even within factions, candidates do not necessarily have the same positions on all issues. Two lawmakers who may agree on foreign policy may differ on economic or social issues. But the variety of views is limited by the Guardian Council’s heavy vetting. It disqualified some 60 percent of the 12,000 people who registered to run. The last three parliaments were dominated by conservatives.
The new Majles’ priority is likely to be improving the economy. In March 2016, a majority of Iranians said they want lawmakers to focus on reducing unemployment, according to a poll by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), working in conjunction with the Program for Public Consultation and IranPoll.com. The second priority for Iranians was attending to the problems of the poor.
Sanctions relief has yet to have a significant impact. Businesses began to move into the Iranian market after sanctions were lifted in January. Many banks and businesses, however, still have reservations about doing business with Iran due to lack of clarity on sanctions and also due to Iran’s need for banking and economic reform. Although Rouhani succeeded in cutting inflation from 14 percent in 2015 to 8 percent as of May 2016, Iran still can do more to create jobs and ensure sustainable growth, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Another issue that Parliament could debate early on is Rouhani’s Citizens’ Bill of Rights. In April 2016, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told The New Yorker it could be the first initiative Rouhani tries to put before the Majles. The draft, published in late 2013, was viewed as a major step towards fulfilling his promises to improve the human rights situation. But rights groups pointed out deficiencies, and Rouhani has yet to make headway on the issue. The Citizens’ Bill of Rights does not require parliamentary approval, according to Zarif. But Rouhani “may want to put in place certain procedures and guarantees and mechanisms, so that may require parliamentary approval,” he said.

The following are profiles of key lawmakers who illustrate the diversity of Iran’s incoming Majles and have differing views on these issues. 

Mohammad Reza Aref
Mohammad Reza Aref, a reformist, garnered 1.6 million votes for a parliamentary seat from Tehran, more than any other candidate. Aref headed the “List of Hope,” a coalition that included reformists and centrists who support Rouhani. Their slogan was “Hope, peace, and economic prosperity.” The group associated itself with the success of the nuclear deal, the lifting of international sanctions, and normalizing political and economic relations with the outside world. Candidates on the slate advocated greater personal and political freedoms. After the election, the coalition renamed itself the “Faction of Hope.” Aref is its leader.
Born in 1951, Aref studied electrical engineering and did graduate work at Stanford University in the late 1970s. He was a professor at Isfahan University of Technology from 1981 to 1994. He then served as president of Tehran University from 1994 until 1997, when he was appointed telecommunications minister under former President Mohammad Khatami. In 2001, President Khatami appointed him to be one of his vice presidents. In 2002, Aref became a member of the powerful Expediency Council, the body charged with resolving disputes between Parliament and the Guardian Council. In 2013, Aref ran for president but eventually dropped out of the race to support Rouhani, a centrist candidate.
On May 19, Aref announced that he would run for Speaker of Parliament. Former Presidents Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani indicated support for Aref. His agenda on legislative priorities differ significantly from Ali Larijani, who was speaker for the previous eight years. 
Ali Larijani
Ali Larijani, a conservative who ran as an independent, won his seat from the holy city of Qom. He served as Speaker of Parliament between 2008 and 2016. Many of his allies did not win reelection. As election results were announced in February, Larijani praised the rotation of political power from one group to another as an auspicious development. Larijani is considered a principlist, but more pragmatic than other hardliners. He opted not to join the main list of hardliners for the election. In Tehran, the Grand Coalition of Principlists failed to win any seats while the “List of Hope” won all 30. “I feel our friends in the [conservative coalition] have not provided the necessary mechanisms for the creation of unity,” he said. “Therefore we seek to act independently.” 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.”
Born in 1957, Larijani is the son of Ayatollah Mirza Hashem Amoli and son-in-law of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari. His father was a prominent religious authority.  Larijani studied mathematics and computer science at Sharif University of Technology. He earned advanced degrees in philosophy from Tehran University. After serving as a commander in the Revolutionary Guards, he held a variety of positions in the state-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, and the Ministry of Telecommunications. From 1991 to 1993, he served as Minister of Guidance and Islamic Culture. From 1994 to 2004, he was President of IRIB.
In 2004, Larijani became an advisor to Khamenei. In 2005, he made an unsuccessful run for president. Later that year, Khamenei appointed him Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, replacing Rouhani. In that capacity, Larijani acted as lead negotiator on Iran’s nuclear program. But he resigned in 2007, reportedly over tactical disagreements with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad over the nuclear talks. In 2008, Larijani ran for Parliament and won a seat representing Qom. He went on to become Speaker of Parliament and held the position for two sessions. Larijani is also a member of the Expediency Council.
Larijani is the presumed conservative candidate for the speakership in the next Parliament, although he was attacked by hardliners for cooperating with Rouhani’s government. He supported the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers, referring to it as a “national achievement” even though Iran did not get everything it wanted. In May 2016, he lauded the Rouhani administration for acting more lawfully and more cooperatively with Parliament than the Ahmadinejad administration. Larijani favors consensus in politics and could act as a broker between hardliners and the other factions.
Ali Motahari
Ali Motahari is a moderate conservative who fielded his own independent list called “Voice of the Nation.” His name was also included on the “List of Hope.” He could become a kingmaker in the next Parliament because he straddles reformists and hardliners. 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. He has criticized the government for putting the two Green Movement leaders and former presidential candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, under house arrest in 2011. Although he has taken a conservative stance on cultural issues, like the dress code for women, Motahari has largely been supportive of President Rouhani. In March 2015, he was physically attacked by alleged hardliner critics. 
Born in 1958, Motahari is the son of the late Ayatollah Morteza Motahari, a leading theologian and political activist who was close to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He is also the brother-in-law of Ali Larijani. Motahari studied mathematics and mechanical engineering at the University of Tabriz. He worked at IRIB and studied philosophy at the graduate level before going on to publish books and academic articles and eventually teach at various universities. In 2008, he ran for Parliament and won a seat representing Tehran. Motahari was a fierce critic of Ahmadinejad.
Motahari is known for being outspoken. After the post-election disqualification of Minoo Khaleghi, a female reformist candidate from Isfahan, he called for her reinstatement. The Guardian Council did not give an official reason for her disqualification, although some have speculated that a photo of her shaking hands with a man and not wearing a hijab might have triggered the decision. Critics of the disqualification argued that the Guardian Council does not have the power to disqualify someone after an election. Motahari said that the Interior Ministry must allow Khaleghi to take her seat or else Parliament will impeach the interior minister. He wrote an open letter to the Guardian Council head, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, insisting on her reinstatement.
Alaeddin Boroujerdi
Alaedddin Boroujerdi is a conservative lawmaker from Boroujerd in the western province of Lorestan. Like Larijani, he chose to run as independent rather than join the hardliner Grand Coalition of Principlists list. Boroujerdi kept his seat after winning in the April runoff.
Born in 1950, Boroujerdi majored in laboratory sciences at the University of Tabriz and did graduate work in international relations at Tehran University. Throughout the 1970s, he worked at the Red Crescent in Dubai and was later apprehended and interrogated by the shah’s SAVAK secret police upon returning to Iran for organizing against the monarchy. After the revolution, he began climbing the diplomatic ranks in 1981. Boroujerdi served as deputy foreign minister for Asia-Pacific affairs in the 1990s, deputy international affairs advisor to the supreme leader and deputy minister of foreign affairs.
In 2000, the veteran diplomat won a seat in Parliament. In 2007, he was named Chairman of the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee. In 2011, he was reportedly detained for 24 hours on allegations of financial fraud. But Boroujerdi denied the charges and accused the “deviant current”—supporters of Ahmadinejad and his chief of staff, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei—of targeting individuals loyal to the supreme leader.
In the previous Parliament, Boroujerdi chaired the National Security and Foreign Policy Committee. He was on the 15-member panel of lawmakers that reviewed the nuclear deal. Boroujerdi had reservations, but ended up supporting the deal even while emphasizing his misgivings about Washington. “We are still distrustful of the United States because of the country’s arrogant nature and its support for the Zionist regime [Israel] in the massacre of the oppressed people of Palestine and its move to back Saudi Arabia’s killing of the Yemeni people. In this climate of mistrust, there are concerns and if they renege [on the nuclear agreement], we will do the same,” he said in August 2015.
In early May 2016, Boroujerdi announced his support for Larijani. “As far as I know him, he is the best speakership option for the tenth Parliament,” he said. Boroujerdi also extoled Larijani’s views on foreign policy.
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
Photo credits: Mohammad Reza Aref by Foad Ashtari [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Tasnim News Agency and Wikimedia Commons; Ali Larijani and Alaeddin Boroujerdi via ICANA and Parliran.ir

Report: Iranian Economy at Crossroads

Iran’s political elite is divided on what direction to take Iran’s economy. One camp, consisting of President Hassan Rouhani and his centrist and reformist supporters, prioritize economic growth through greater cooperation with the outside world. “The second force, as represented the hardliners, the ruling clergy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), would prefer to retain the current economic structure, as these forces maintain a significant stake in the economy,” according to Zubair Iqbal, a scholar at the Middle East Institute. The following are excerpts from his new paper.
Iran’s Economy Post-Sanctions
The Iranian economy is at a crossroads. Hard choices will have to be made in the wake of changing international conditions and the global oil outlook. The lifting of sanctions following the nuclear agreement has the potential to reinvigorate growth. Steps taken over the past few years have helped contain inflation, reduce some subsidies, and achieve a degree of exchange rate stability with some growth. However, the economy remains weak.
Unemployment, especially among the younger generation, remains high. Prospects for the current year look better in light of the easing of financial constraints following the release of large official foreign exchange reserves, higher oil production, and improved market confidence leading to higher investment. Iran’s fiscal position will likely be consolidated further if planned revenue measures, including an increase in VAT and elimination of tax exemptions and a reduction in subsidies,  are implemented, which, combined with higher domestic production and imports, could further reduce inflation.
However, the Iranian economy is confronted with a dramatic fall in oil prices. It is compounded by the requirements of time-consuming and expensive investments in reviving output toward its pre-sanctions level of about 4 million barrels per day and rising domestic demand. While an increase in oil output and related investment would help increase GDP, lower export prices will likely further weaken the external position and the budget. With limited prospects, at present, of any meaningful supply restraint agreement among the major oil producers, oil revenues for the next 3-4 years could be up to 30 percent lower than those projected on the assumption of a strong recovery in 2016. Similarly, there would be little accumulation of foreign exchange reserves that have served as a cushion against future uncertainties. In this event, there would be little room for expansionary policies to reinvigorate growth. Thus, downside risks to growth have increased.
At the same time, the Iranian economy is saddled with significant structural distortions that continue to constrain its growth outlook. Critical prices, including exchange rate and interest rates, are still out of line; the financial sector is burdened with large nonperforming loans; the private sector faces weak demand and inadequate availability of credit; and government arrears have accumulated while subsidies remain large. Public sector entities control a significant share of the economy and access to bank credit. Governance of the private sector and the business environment is inadequate and nontransparent, undermining private investment. Increased regional instability as well as uncertainty with respect to the implementation of the nuclear agreement further compound downward risks.
Domestic Vs. Regional Priorities
Broadly, Iran aims to accelerate economic growth under the existing political structure while simultaneously strengthening its regional strategic position. Within the Iranian political elite, however, lies two competing strands. One, as represented by the reformists and the technocratic government of President Hassan Rouhani, prioritize economic growth. As such, they are more inclined to seek a regional strategic balance and greater cooperation with outside powers in order to serve their economic agenda. If the authorities choose to liberalize the economy through widespread economic reforms, and reduce the role of the inefficient public sector, domestic political power would likely shift in their favor.
The second force, as represented the hardliners, the ruling clergy and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (I.R.G.C.), would prefer to retain the current economic structure, as these forces maintain a significant stake in the economy. …

Iran’s Policy Options
Iranian authorities could pursue three broad strategies in the current circumstances: (a) maintain the status quo, (b) implement widespread and coordinated reforms, or (c) implement mild politically-neutral reforms. The third option would ease some constraints on private sector investment and fiscal consolidation in response to lower oil earnings, but leave the economic and political structure broadly unchanged. …

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Tags: Reports

Iran’s Runoff Election for Parliament

Garrett Nada 

Allies and supporters of President Hassan Rouhani made gains in the Parliamentary runoff election on April 29. They will form the largest faction in Parliament, but not a majority.  In 55 constituencies, 136 candidates competed for 68  seats that were undecided in the first round, on February 26, where a candidate did not meet the threshold of 25 percent. Rouhani’s supporters— a loose group of reformists, centrists and moderate conservatives— now hold roughly 41 percent of the 290 seats.
Rouhani welcomed the election results in a speech marking May Day. “People chose the best people in the election, and we are happy that the next Majles (Parliament) will be more coordinated with the government,” he said. Some 59 percent of eligible voters went to the polls.
The new Parliament will have fewer clerics than at any time since the founding of the Islamic Republic. Since the first Parliament in 1980, the proportion of clerics in the legislative body has steadily decreased, from more than half of lawmakers in 1980, to nine percent in 2012. Some 27 clerics held seats in the outgoing Parliament, compared with just 16 who were elected this round, according to Agence France-Presse. Three are considered reformists and the rest are more conservative. For the first time, women will outnumber clerics.
Women won a record number of seats. The new Parliament will have 17 women, eight more than in the outgoing Parliament and three more than the previous high in 1996, during the era of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. They are all reformists or independents, another departure from past parliaments. In the previous parliament, the female Members were virtually all conservative.
Rouhani highlighted the increase in female representation in his May Day speech. “This is a record and we are happy that our dear women are taking part in all stages, especially in politics,” Rouhani said.
Media and monitoring groups, however, differed over the distribution of seats, in part, due to the fluid nature of Iranian politics. Iran’s system does not have formal parties. Candidates run either as independents or on lists with others. In this election, some candidates ran on multiple lists, so their affiliations are not clearly defined. And some newcomers’ leanings are unknown. The chart above is from the Islamic Student News Agency:
Independents may play a decisive role in the new Parliament because neither the president’s supporters nor the hardliners have enough seats to push legislation through on their own. Hardliners won 29 percent of the seats. And independents won 28 percent of seats. The new balance of power may help Rouhani push forward long-stalled promises of reform opposed by hardliners, who have dominated the last three parliaments, since 2004.
Gains by Rouhani’s supporters have raised the possibility that Mohammad Reza Aref, a leading reformer, may challenge the current Speaker of Parliament, Ali Larijani. Larijani is a conservative who ran from the holy city of Qom. He is considered a principlist but chose not to join the main list of hardliners for the election. “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. He won the backing of Qassem Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s elite Qods Force, who cited Larijani’s long support of “revolutionary movements.” Larijani was largely supportive of the nuclear deal between Iran and the world’s six major powers.
Aref could be a formidable contender for the speakership. A former presidential candidate and a vice president under former President Mohammad Khatami, he garnered 1.6 million votes for a parliamentary seat from Tehran, more than any other candidate. He headed the “List of Hope,” which included reformists and centrists who support Rouhani. The list associated itself with the success of the nuclear deal, the lifting of international sanctions, and normalizing political and economic relations with the outside world. The slate also supported greater personal and political freedoms. If Aref were to dislodge Larijani, he could potentially shift the direction and priorities of the legislature. The new Parliament is scheduled to convene on May 27. 
Two seats are still undecided. One is for Isfahan, which was initially won by a female reformist candidate, Minoo Khaleghi. She was disqualified by the Guardian Council one month after the election. The Council did not give an official reason for her disqualification, although some have speculated that a photo of her shaking hands with a man and not wearing a hijab might have triggered the decision. It has not yet been announced how her seat will be filled.
The other unfilled seat is for the rural town of Mamasani in southern Fars province. During voting, shooting broke out between supporters of different candidates, and four people were wounded.
Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer. Katayoun Kishi, a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace, also contributed to this article.

Photo credit: Photo credit: Harald Dettenborn [CC BY 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons 

Iran Targets Political Elites

Garrett Nada
Over the past four decades, Iran’s revolutionaries have often been targets of their own revolution. Dozens have been pushed aside, discredited, banned from running for office, or isolated. Many have ended up in jail or faced prolonged house arrest. A few have been executed. The rivalries and reprisals among disparate revolutionary factions has been the backdrop of most major political developments, in both domestic and foreign policy, in the Islamic Republic.
Among the early victims was Foreign Minister Sadegh Ghotbzadeh, a close aide to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini during his exile. He was executed in 1982 after being charged with trying to overthrow the Islamic Republic. Abolhassan Bani Sadr, the first president after the 1979 revolution, was impeached in 1981. He went underground and fled to Paris. In 1987, Mehdi Hashemi, who had headed the Revolutionary Guards liaison with foreign Islamic movements, was executed for sedition. In 1989, Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, the designated successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was forced to resign after he criticized the execution of political prisoners and fell out of favor with Khomeini. 
Since the 2009 presidential election, top officials have been punished or imprisoned for ties to the Green Movement protests. Among those taken to court in mass Stalin-esque trials were former Vice President Mohammad Abtahi and Mohsen Mirdamadi, former chairman of Parliament’s foreign affairs committee and leader of the Islamic Iran Participation Front, a reformist party. Former Deputy Speaker of Parliament Behzad Nabavi and former government spokesman Abdollah Ramezanzadeh were also tried and convicted. All four were sentenced to jail terms.
The most famous current case involves two men who ran for president in 2009: former Speaker of Parliament Mehdi Karroubi and former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi. Both challenged the election results, which gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a second term, despite hundreds of formal complaints of voter fraud. Both were leaders of the subsequent Green Movement protests, which raged sporadically until early 2010. Both men were put under house arrest—banished from public view or mention in the press—in 2011.
Over the past five years, hardliners have repeatedly charged both men with “sedition.” During the 2013 presidential campaign, Hassan Rouhani pledged to end the politically fraught saga. But he failed to make headway.
In a bold challenge to the Islamic regime, Karroubi issued an open letter to President Rouhani in April 2016 pleading to be formally charged and tried. “I want you to ask the despotic regime to grant me a public trial based on Article 168 of the constitution,” he wrote. “It will show which side continues in the path of the revolution and is honorable.”
Many other revolutionaries with prestigious pedigrees have been targeted by Iran’s judiciary or security apparatus. So have their families. Three of Khomeini’s grandsons and one granddaughter have been disqualified from running in elections since 2004. The following is sampling of Iran’s political elite —reformers, centrists and hardliners — who have faced restrictions in recent years.
Khomeini Family
Ayatollah Khomeini’s name still carries great symbolic weight four decades after he led the 1979 revolution. He was the ultimate authority for a decade, until his death. Yet several of late leader’s grandchildren have been banned from running for office. At least seven of his 15 grandchildren have been active politically since the mid-1990s. They have openly criticized laws, electoral practices or the leadership.
Hassan Khomeini, is a mid-ranking cleric and widely considered the late revolutionary leader’s heir apparent. In February 2016, the Guardian Council barred Khomeini from running for a seat in the Assembly of Experts, an 88-man clerical body charged with appointing, supervising and dismissing the supreme leader.
In an Instagram post, Khomeini’s 19-year-old son, Ahmad, charged that the Guardian Council ignored testimonies from top clerics that endorsed his father’s qualifications. The reason for the disqualification was “clear for all,” he said, implying that the council’s ruling was political. Khomeini had the backing of both reformist and centrist political elites. He appealed the rejection, but was again rejected, reportedly for not having requisite Islamic knowledge.
The Guardian Council barred another Khomeini grandson, Morteza Eshraghi, from running for parliament in February 2016. He is also a mid-ranking cleric.
In 2008, the Guardian Council initially barred Khomeini grandson Ali Eshraghi from running for parliament. The council eventually reversed its decision and reinstated Eshraghi, who was part of a reformist coalition, and some 280 other candidates. But he eventually withdrew at the request of the Khomeini family after a smear campaign was waged against him.
In 2004, Khomeini granddaughter Zahra Eshraghi and about 2,000 other reformists were barred from running in parliamentary elections. Eshraghi is an outspoken women’s rights activist who is married to prominent reformist Reza Khatami, the younger brother of former President Mohammad Khatami.
Hossein Khomeini has been a rebel since the early days of the Islamic Republic. He was put under virtual house arrest in 1981 after he charged that “the new dictatorship established in religious form is worse than that of the Shah and the Mongols.” In a 2003 BBC interview, he claimed that his grandfather would have opposed Iran’s leaders if he were still alive. Khomeini even supported the idea of U.S. or foreign intervention to force regime change. He was reportedly under surveillance and banned from giving interviews to Iranian media.
Rafsanjani Family
Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, former Speaker of Parliament and two-term President (1989-1997), helped rebuild Iran after its devastating war with Iraq. He still chairs the Expediency Council. Hardliners opposed Rafsanjani’s pragmatic approach to domestic and foreign affairs, while critics alleged that his family used political connections to amass significant wealth. He was dislodged from the Assembly of Experts chairmanship in 2011. In 2013, the Guardian Council barred him from running for president again.
Rafsanjani’s children have also been marginalized politically. Two were charged with acting against the government after the 2009 presidential election. His daughter Faezeh Hashemi, a former Member of Parliament and vice president of Iran’s Olympic committee, was charged with “spreading propaganda.” She spent six months in prison; she was released in March 2013.
Rafsanjani’s son, Mehdi Hashemi, left Iran after the disputed 2009 elections for Britain. He was arrested on his return and jailed for three months for corruption and inciting unrest against the regime. He was released in December 2012. In 2015, he was convicted of new charges of embezzlement, bribery and security offenses. He began serving a 10-year jail term in August 2015.
In 2016, the Guardian Council disqualified two of Rafsanjani’s children from running for parliament. Fatemeh Hashemi had been outspoken in her criticism of President Ahmadinejad’s economic mismanagement. Mohsen Hashemi, who had served on Tehran’s city council,was also barred from running. Both had reformist views.  
The Guardian Council did allow Rafsanjani to run for the Assembly of Experts, however. In February 2016, he led a slate of centrists and moderate conservatives in the Assembly of Experts election. He placed first in the race for 16 available seats in Tehran. Rafsanjani is widely believed to covet the job of supreme leader.

Khatami Family
Former President Mohammad Khatami (1997-2005) pledged political and social reforms while in office, but was largely thwarted by hardliners. Since the 2009 presidential election, he has been sidelined by hardliner critics for supporting opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Since 2010, he has been banned from leaving the country and barred from public events or quotes in the media.
For the February 2016 elections, Khatami skirted the ban by using social media. He released a video encouraging Iranians to vote for the “List of Hope” for parliament and the “People’s Experts” for the Assembly of Experts—both slates of reformers and centrists. The “List of Hope” took all 30 seats in parliament for Tehran.
The Guardian Council has tried to isolate Khatami’s younger brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami, who was deputy speaker of parliament from 2000 to 2004. He was barred from running for parliament in 2004. Khatami is married to Zahra Eshraghi, granddaughter of Ayatollah Khomeini. Both supported reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 2009 presidential election. Police reportedly detained the couple in 2010 amid protests by the Green Movement. He is also banned from leaving the country.
Mousavi Family
Mir Hossein Mousavi served as prime minister (1981-1989) during the Iran-Iraq war. From 1989 to 2009, he served as an advisor to Presidents Rafsanjani and Khatami. In 2009, he ran for president and contested incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s victory. His protest of the official results sparked the Green Movement protests. Mousavi and his wife, women’s rights activist Zahra Rahnavard, were placed under house arrest in February 2011 for their role in the opposition.
In February 2013, the couple’s daughters Zahra and Narges Mousavi were detained for questioning after publishing a letter demanding release of their parents. Mousavi and his wife not allowed to attend the wedding of their daughter in March 2016.
Karroubi Family
Mehdi Karroubi, former parliamentary speaker (1989-1992, 2000-2004), ran for president in 2009. He too contested the official results and, with Mousavi, led the opposition Green Movement. Karroubi was particularly outspoken about harsh treatment of protestors by security forces. In February 2011, he was placed under house arrest, at the same time as Mousavi and Rhanavard. Neither has been formally charged with any crimes.
In 2009, Karroubi’s son, Mohammad Hossein Karroubi, was sentenced to six months in jail for speaking to foreign media about alleged abuses of prisoners. The sentence was suspended on the condition that he not commit a crime for five years. He was reportedly detained on Feb. 11, 2013, the same day as the Mousavi daughters.
Ahmadinejad and His Circle

Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-2013) began to see his status deteriorate even before leaving office. In May 2011, some two dozen individuals close to Ahmadinejad, including his chief of staff and protégé Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, were arrested and charged with being “magicians.” Ahmadinejad and his cohort were labeled “the deviationist current.”
In 2013, the Guardian Council barred Mashaei from running for president. Ahmadinejad said the decision was an act of “oppression.” He appealed to the supreme leader to intervene, but to no avail.
In February 2015, a former vice president and top aid to Ahmadinejad, Mohammad Reza Rahimi, began serving a five-year prison term for “acquiring wealth through illicit methods.” He was also ordered to pay compensation.

Garrett Nada is the assistant editor of The Iran Primer at the U.S. Institute of Peace. 


Photo credits: Abolhassan Bani Sadr by Christoph Braun (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons; Mir Hossein Mousavi by Mardetanha with special thanks to Mr.Salar Nayerhoda for kind helps (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Mehdi Karroubi by Mardetanha [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani via HashemiRafsanjani.ir; Mohammad Khatami by World Economic Forum (www.weforum.org), swiss-image.ch/Photo by Remy Steinegger (World Economic Forum Annual Meeting Davos 2007) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons; Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009 by Kremlin.ru [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0) or CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons 

Election Results 1: Parliament

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.


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