United States Institute of Peace

The Iran Primer

Poll on Upcoming Elections

A new poll by iPOS (Information and Public Opinion Solutions LLC), suggests that Iran could set a new record for voter turnout on February 26. More than 70 percent of voters indicated that they will vote in the parliamentary and Assembly of experts elections. Iran has not seen such a turnout since the 1996 parliamentary elections. The survey, conducted from February 12-20, also found that more Iranians believe reformists are more capable of solving Iran’s problems than principlists. 

Iranians gave President Hassan Rouhani an approval rating of 67 percent, the highest one seen in an iPOS survey since November 2014. Parliament did not receive as high of a mark. Only 28 percent of respondents said they were completely or somewhat satisfied with its performance. The Assembly of Experts, the body charged with supervising and selecting the supreme leader, also received relatively poor ratings. The following are key results from survey, which sampled 1,184 Iranians. 

Question: You may be aware that there are a number of main political groups in Iran, a situation comparable to other countries in the world. For example, there are some groups which refer to themselves as Principalists, Reformists, Moderates, etc. In your opinion which one of these groups would do a better job of solving the problems the country is now facing?
Question: Which political groups (including Reformists, Principalist, and Moderates,) do you tend to lean toward? Which is to say, with which of these group’s idea does you most agree?
Question: In your opinion to what extent will the coming parliamentary elections be free? Which is to say, completely free, somewhat free, or not free at all.
Question: To date, the present parliament has been sitting for nearly four years. Generally speaking, do you approve or disapprove of the way parliament is handling its job?
Question: As you may be aware, the term of the present Assembly of Experts has lasted the last nine years. Generally speaking, do you approve or disapprove of the way the Assembly is handling its job?
Question: People usually take various criteria into consideration when choosing among candidates. I’ll now read a few sentences regarding such criteria. Please tell me how important each of the following criteria is to you in your voting decision which is to say very important, somewhat important, or not at all important.


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Iran's Election Coalitions

Katayoun Kishi
Iranian candidates often run in loose coalitions rather than formal parties, mainly because of the difficulty in building name recognition and momentum in a short time. But candidates are technically considered independent regardless of which list—or lists—they ally with. Some candidates join multiple slates—sometimes groups with opposing platforms—to appeal to a broader swath of voters. Others, including Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, choose not to join a slate at all. At the polls, voters select specific candidates, not entire lists, as in other parliamentary systems. The following is a rundown of some prominent lists in the February 26 election.
Universal Coalition of Reformists
Leader: Former Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref
Dubbed the “List of Hope” by former President Mohammed Khatami, this coalition is the slate of reformist and centrist candidates for parliament. It is headed by Mohammad Reza Aref, a former presidential candidate and a vice president under Khatami. It blends in centrist supporters of President Hassan Rouhani from the “Alliance of Reformists and Government Supporters.” The list associates 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 supports greater personal and political freedoms. Its logo and slogan is “the second step,” or the sequel to Rouhani's election in 2013. For this coalition, the election is 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 is dependent on lesser known candidates. It has also tapped a few high-profile conservatives, such as Ali Motahari and Kazem Jalali—who are running with other slates as well. The List of Hope has been endorsed by former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani as well as Khatami. The list for Tehran includes eight women.
The coalition has held large rallies in public forums, with hundreds of supporters waving posters and flags in aqua, the list’s official color. Others have held up pictures or signs demanding the release of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the former prime minister and presidential candidate who has been under house arrest since 2011 for his role in the 2009 Green Movement. Although the government has banned quoting or using pictures of Khatami, some voters have dared to sport posters simply of his hands. The coalition has been working hard to get voters to turnout on Feb 26. Rouhani sent a mass SMS to tens of millions of Iranians, saying their participation is needed “to build the future of the country with plenty of hope,” emphasizing the list’s “hope” slogan.
Voice of the Nation
Leader: Ali Motahari
The “Voice of the Nation” is a slate of moderate conservatives led by the outspoken Motahari, a member of parliament who has criticized the government for putting the two Green Movement leaders and former presidential candidates under house arrest. “We felt there were shortcomings in both [principalist and reformist] groups,” Motahari said when he announced formation of the coalition. In a recent interview, 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 Iranian campaigns, Motahari also appears 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. 
The Voice of the Nation’s campaign posters, which are trimmed in indigo, call for an “economic boom” and “citizens’ rights.” The group’s rallies have reportedly not been well-attended.
Grand Coalition of Principlists
Leader: Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel
This list of hardliners (known as “principlists” for supporting rigid interpretation of revolutionary principles) and traditional conservatives is headed by 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 Khamenei’s son, Mojtaba. Other candidates on the list include former advisors to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and outspoken critics of President Rouhani. Ali Larijani, the current speaker of Parliament and a conservative, declined to join the list, saying instead that he is running independently: “I feel our friends in the [conservative coalition] have not provided the necessary mechanisms for the creation of unity…Therefore we [Larijani’s faction] seek to act independently.” The coalition is contesting all 30 of Tehran’s available seats, and includes six female candidates.
The hardliners are largely opposed to Rouhani’s policies, which could complicate the president’s ability to introduce economic and social reforms or personal freedoms. Principlists have campaigned on Rouhani’s failure to deliver on promises of economic benefits from a nuclear deal and the lifting of international sanctions. They have emphasized their economic backgrounds, with ten candidates who held senior economic positions in previous governments. They have been 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.
The list’s slogan is “Livelihood, Security, and Progress.” It appears 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 are contesting 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.
People’s Experts
Leader: Hashemi Rafsanjani
A new list of candidates, called the “People’s Experts”, is challenging the traditional groups of conservatives and hardliners that typically dominate the Assembly. The informal coalition of centrists and moderate conservatives is running a slate of 16 candidates for the Assembly candidates in Tehran (which selects 16 of the 88 members). The slate includes former President Rafsanjani as well as current President Rouhani. The Guardian Council disqualified one of the most famous candidates, Hassan Khomeini, a reformist and grandson of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. But he has tacitly supported the list. “We should vote for those who don’t close their eyes to oppression,” he said.
Left to right: Seyyed Hassan Khomeini, former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Hassan Rouhani. Caption reads: "Hope is our investment." (Instagram of Ahmad Khomeini.) 
The People’s Experts candidates want to widen their presence on the Assembly, which has long been dominated by hardliners. Among the hardliners are Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the ultra-conservative chairman of the Guardian Council; incumbent Assembly of Experts chairman Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi; and Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami (no relation to the former president). The list has campaigned to defeat these three and two others in “No to these 5” social media blitz. Hardliners quickly fired. They referred to the campaign as a plot by Western media to influence Iranian elections.

The People’s Experts list has aligned itself with the reformist list for parliamentary candidates. Voters have been encouraged to vote for both lists, since the parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections occur simultaneously. In a video posted on YouTube, former President Khatami stressed to “vote for both the lists, all the individuals in both the lists.  I repeat, vote for all the individuals in both the lists.” Campaign posters advertise “30+16,” referencing the 30 candidates on the List of Hope reformist coalition and the 16 candidates on the People’s Experts list.  


Katayoun Kishi is a research assistant at the U.S. Institute of Peace. Garrett Nada, the assistant editor of The Iran Primer, also contributed to this article.


Khamenei on Eve of Elections

On February 24, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei accused the United States of interfering in Iran’s upcoming elections. Khamenei said that Iran is "standing firm" against the United States' "evil goals" during an address to thousands of people from Najafabad. He also released infographics on his official English language Twitter account urging Iranians to vote. The following are quotes from Khamenei’s speech.
"When after 37 years and with all pressures and sanctions, the enemy couldn’t prevent people’s allegiance to Establishment, the greatness of Revolution awes it."

"With voting in elections, the Iranian nation stands firm against and defies the enemy."

"One of the enemy’s artifices in election is creation of a bipolarity like ‘governmental’ and ‘anti-governmental’ parliaments."
"I strongly believe that despite all the enemy’s propaganda, God Almighty has destined final victory for the Iranian nation."

"After the JCPOA, the US has been seeking one plot for Iran and another for the region; they know which country is standing firm against their evil goals.
Photo credits: khamenei.ir

Election Timeline, Quotes & Factoids

Iran is scheduled to hold elections on February 26 for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. The following is a chronology of events related to the polls, which have the potential to shift the political balance of power.
Dec. 17, 2015: The candidate registration period for Assembly of Experts election began.

Dec. 18, 2015: Hassan Khomeini, the 43-year-old grandson of revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, registered for the Assembly of Experts election.  


Dec. 19, 2015: The candidate registration period for the parliamentary election began.
Dec. 23, 2015: The candidate registration period for the Assembly of Experts election ended. Some 800 people registered in total. Sixteen women registered their candidacies, marking the first time in history that women had vied for those seats.
Dec. 25, 2015: The candidate registration period for the parliamentary election ended. More than 12,000 people registered, more than double compared to the previous election. Women comprised 12 percent of registered parliamentary candidates, an increase of four percentage points since the last election.
Jan. 4, 2016: In a meeting with prayer leaders, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned that opponents of the Islamic Republic might try to infiltrate Iran’s governing institutions following implementation of the nuclear deal. “If the agents of penetration somehow manage to enter the Islamic Consultative Majles parliament], the Assembly of Experts or the other foundations of the Islamic Republic, they will weaken the bases of the system and will eat them from the inside like termites.” 


Jan. 5, 2016: The Guardian Council invited 537 of those who registered for the Assembly of Experts election to take the qualification tests required for candidacy – among them were 10 women candidates. Some 400 ended up taking the exam. Hassan Khomeini did not take the exam. He reportedly was not specifically invited.
Jan. 9, 2016: Khamenei urged all Iranians to participate in the upcoming elections, even those who do not support the system of government. “There might be people who do not accept me, but they also participate in elections,” he said in a speech.
Jan. 17, 2016: The Guardian Council announced that less than half of those who registered for the parliamentary elections will be allowed to run. About 4,700 out of 12,000 were preliminarily approved.
In a press conference, President Hassan Rouhani said he was unhappy with news of disqualifications. “Hopefully the Guardian Council will look into it. And as the president, I will also use all my executive powers in this regard,” he said.
Jan. 18, 2016: A Reformist leader said that out of more than 3,000 reformist candidates that registered, only 30 were approved.
Lawmakers Mohammad Reza Tabesh said parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani was discussing the disqualifications with the Guardian Council and also seeking to create a working group that would allow rejected candidates to personally protest during a special hearing.
Jan. 20, 2016: Khamenei elaborated regarding the political participation of those who do not accept Iran’s system of government. He said that they should vote, but would not be allowed into parliament. His remarks were interpreted as tacit approval of the Guardian Council’s decision to disqualify nearly all of the reformist candidates.
Jan. 21, 2016: Rouhani stepped his criticism of the candidate vetting process. “If there is one faction and the other is not there, they don't need the February 26 elections, they go to the parliament,” he told election officials. “As the supreme leader of the Islamic Revolution indicated and ordered all to act according to the essence of the constitution, not the essence of a specific political taste, so I urgently asked the Interior and Intelligence Ministers to diligently cooperate and consult with the electoral supervisory Guardian Council in this regard.”
Jan. 26, 2016: The Guardian Council announced that 166 Assembly of Experts candidates were eligible to run. Out of the some 800 who originally registered, 373 were vetted. The others had withdrawn, refused to take the qualification exam or were not allowed to be vetted. It was the also the last day for the Guardian Council to inform Assembly of Experts candidates of their qualification or disqualification.
Hassan Khomeini’s 19-year-old son, Ahmad, announced his father’s disqualification in an Instagram post. He wrote that the Guardian Council “failed to prove” that his father was qualified. Ahmad added that the group also refused to accept testimonies of tens of top clerics who could vouch for his father’s qualifications. Therefore, the reason for Khomeini’s disqualification is “clear for all,” Ahmad wrote, perhaps implying that the council’s ruling was a political one. Khomeini has connections to influential reformist and centrist political elites. Khomeini later verified his disqualification by reposting what his son wrote.  

• ديشب ديگر قطعى شد كه شوراى نگهبان نتوانسته صلاحيت علمى بابا را احراز كند و نتوانستند از شهادت ده ها مرجع و عالم و فقيه به اجتهاد پى ببرند. به نظرم براى همگان علت عدم احراز ، احراز شده است ، مخصوصا كه برخى ديگر هم بدون امتحان اجتهادشان احراز شده است بگذريم؛ قبل از خواب با بابا صحبت كردم از اوضاع سؤال نمودم. يك بيت از حافظ خواند: سر ارادت ما و آستان حضرت دوست كه هر چه بر سر ما مى رود ارادت اوست

A photo posted by سيد احمد خمينى (@ahmadkhomeini) on

Jan. 29, 2016: Khomeini reportedly announced to a group of students and clerics that he would appeal the Guardian Council's decision. He noted that he was surprised by the Council’s rejection, and that he would appeal at the request of members of the public and political leadership. 
Jan. 30, 2016: Appeals from disqualified Assembly of Experts candidates were due to the Guardian Council.
Feb. 1, 2016: Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani criticized the Guardian Council’s decision to disqualify Khomeini and many reformist candidates at a ceremony commemorating Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s return to Tehran in 1979. According to state news, Rafsanjani referred to hardliners on the Guardian Council, saying, “They disqualified the grandson of Imam Khomeini, who is the most similar person to his grandfather…Who decided you are qualified to judge the others? Who gave you the right to take all the guns, have all the Friday prayer platform and run state television?” He added, “Without Imam Khomeini, none of these people [on the vetting panel] would have existed."
Feb. 2, 2016: Hardliners reacted harshly to Rafsanjani’s remarks. Hossein Shariatmadari, the editor-in-chief of hardline Kayhan newspaper, said that Rafsanjani should be feel indebted to the Khomeini family, rather than the Guardian Council. Shariatmadari claimed that Rafsanjani had persuaded the young Khomeini to register for the Assembly of Experts election. Some reformists also criticized Rafsanjani’s remarks while others defended them. 
Feb. 6, 2016: The Guardian Council approved an additional 1,500 candidates to run for Parliament. These were previously disqualified candidates that had appealed their case and presented new evidence of their credentials. As a result, a total of 6,180 parliamentary candidates were approved out of about 12,000 registered candidates. It remained unclear how many of the 2,970 rejected reformist candidates had been qualified. Interior Ministry spokesman Hossein Ali Amiri commented, “In no other elections have we had so many approved candidates, which is partly due to the increased number of registrations.”
Feb. 9, 2016 – Former President Mohammad Khatami urged voters to turnout for the Feb. 26 elections. The reformist voiced his disappointment that “capable” and “deserving figures” were disqualified, likely referencing the large number of reformist candidates that were disqualified by the Guardian Council. He argued that “mass participation” and “heated elections” were in the best interests of voters.  
Feb. 10, 2016: Hassan Khomeini’s appeal was rejected by the Guardian Council. Khomeini will not be allowed to run in the Assembly of Experts election. In a post on a social media platform believed to be controlled by his office, Khomeini said, “All my support from top clerics has been ignored, as have been my religious publications…I never expected they would reverse their decision…I made the appeal because people asked me to do so.” 
Feb. 16, 2016 – The Guardian Council finalized its list of approved parliamentary candidates, with 6,229 candidates allowed to run out of the more than 12,000 people who registered. The approved candidates included 586 women. Some election lists began to form, including a “grand coalition of principalists” (conservatives), a list of reformists led by former presidential candidate Mohammad Reza Aref, and a middle-ground “Voice of the Nation” list led by Ali Motahari, a moderate conservative. Candidates were allowed to join more than one list. 

Feb. 17, 2016: Khamenei warned that the United States and the West were trying to influence the results of the elections. 
Feb. 18, 2016: Campaigning began for parliamentary elections. Since campaigning is only permitted for one week prior to voting, candidates joined loose coalitions to improve their name recognition.
Feb. 24, 2016: Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gave a speech accusing the United States of interfering in Iran's elections. 
Katayoun Kishi, a research assistant, and Garrett Nada, assistant editor of The Iran Primer at the U.S. Institute of Peace, contributed to this chronology. 


Iran’s Elections: Facts, Tweets & Images

Cameron Glenn
On February 26, Iranians will go to the polls to vote for Parliament and the Assembly of Experts. Parliamentary candidates are only allowed to campaign for eight days prior to the election - in this case, between February 18 and 25. The following are factoids, tweets, and images related to campaigning and election day.

The Campaign

  • Campaigning on social media plays a prominent role in this election since around 39 million Iranians – about half of the population – own smartphones. During the last election, only around 300,000 Iranians had smartphones.
  • The messaging app Telegram, which has around 20 million users in Iran, has been widely used to share campaign messages. Unlike Facebook and Twitter, Telegram is not blocked in Iran.
  • Former President Khatami – who is banned from appearing in official media – released a video message supporting reformists on Telegram. In just one day, it was viewed by more than three million people. The Basij has also used Telegram to promote conservative candidates.
  • On February 24, Rouhani sent out mass texts urging Iranians to vote. 
  • More than 470 reporters from 29 countries will cover the elections.
  • Conservative rallies have been low-key compared to reformist ones, which have featured live music and have been well-attended by the youth. 

    • Around 6,200 candidates are competing in parliamentary elections this year for 290 available seats, including 586 women. More than 12,000 candidates had originally registered – a 60 percent increase from the 2012 elections.
    • Hundreds were disqualified by the Guardian Council, amounting to nearly 58 percent of candidates who initially registered. Only 30 out of 3,000 reformist candidates were approved. But after an appeals process, 1,500 additional candidates were approved, lowering the disqualification rate to 49 percent.
    • The number of candidates in each district varies by population. In Tehran, 1,121 candidates are competing for 30 seats. 
    • More than 580 parliamentary candidates are women.
    • Around 800 candidates registered to run for the Assembly of Experts, but only 161 clerics were approved. They are competing for 88 seats.
    • In some provinces, Assembly of Experts seats are not even contested. The number of seats matches the number of candidates in Western Azerbaijan, Ardebil, Bushehr, northern Khorasan, Semnan, and Hormozgan. In other provinces, such as Eastern Azerbaijan and Khuzestan, 13 candidates are competing for 11 seats.
    • Voters must write the full names of all the candidates they vote for. In Tehran, for example, they can fill in up to 30 names for parliament and 16 names for the Assembly of Experts.
    • Parliamentary candidates are only allowed to campaign for one week prior to the election - in this case, between February 18 and 25. Assembly of Experts candidates can begin campaigning 15 days before election day. All campaigning must end 24 hours before the polls open.


    Election Rules
    • Around one million people will organize and run the elections, and 250,000 policemen will be on duty.
    • More than 52,000 polling stations and 120,000 ballot boxes will be set up for the elections. Mosques, schools, and state buildings function as polling centers, and men and women vote separately.
    • Representatives from the Ministry of the Interior, the Guardian Council, the police, and other state institutions will be present at every polling station.
    • Iran does not yet have technology to tally votes, so ballots will be counted manually. Any software would need to be approved by the Guardian Council.
    • Around 55 million people are eligible to vote in Iran, out of a population of 80 million. Voters are not registered, and can vote in any constituency.
    • At the polling station, voters must provide their national ID card and their Shenasnameh, a document stamped in each election to prevent multiple voting.
    • Candidates can only distribute or put up six-by-eight inch posters.
    • It is illegal to destroy any candidate's campaign poster. Candidates and their supporters are not allowed to insult or slander one another.
    • Campaign workers often pass out other promotional materials, such as pins and wristbands.
    • The use of public funds for campaign purposes is prohibited. 


    Click here to learn more about Iran's Parliament.

    Click here to learn more about the Assembly of Experts.


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