Semira N. Nikou
This is the third in a series on parliamentary elections due in March 2012:
- Iran’s first parliament was formed after the Constitutional Revolution in 1906. Its current parliament was created by a new constitution written after the 1979 revolution ousted the monarchy and established an Islamic republic. The first revolutionary parliament was elected in 1980. Iran has elected eight parliaments since then.
- Average voter turnout for the eight parliamentary elections has been 63 percent nationally. But in the past 15 years, the average for Tehran province—which includes the capital city—has been 44 percent, the lowest in the country.*
- Parliament originally had 270 seats but increased to 290 members in 2000. There may be another 20 seat increase for the 2012 elections.
- Citizens are not confined to voting for candidates from their own district and can cast their votes in any district (or province).
- Five seats are reserved for religious minorities—one seat each for Jews, Zoroastrians, and Assyrian-Chaldean Christians, and two seats for Armenian Christians.
- In 2008, a combination of conservatives and hardliners won more than 67 percent of seats, while reformists won around 18 percent. The rest ran as independents.
- Clerics now represent 14 percent of parliamentarians, a significant decline since they held half of the seats in the first parliament.*
- Eight women serve as deputies in the current parliament. The highest number of female MPS (14) and the highest proportion of female representatives (5 percent) were in 1996, when the total number of deputies was 270.*
- Ali Larijani is the current Speaker of Parliament. He is Iran’s former nuclear negotiator (2005-7). His brother, Sadegh Larijani, has been the judiciary chief since 2009. The Larijani family now controls two of the three branches of government.
- Only Iranian citizens living in Iran can vote in parliamentary elections—unlike presidential elections in which members of the diaspora can also vote.
* Source: Duality by Design: The Iranian Electoral System published by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems.
This is the second in a series on parliamentary elections due in March 2012:
- First parliament (1980-1984)
- Second parliament (1984-1988)
- Third parliament (1988-1992)
- Fourth parliament (1992-1996)
- Fifth parliament (1996-2000)
- Sixth parliament (2000-2004)
- Seventh parliament (2004-2008)
- Eighth parliament (2008- )
The Iran Primer today begins a series on parliamentary elections now scheduled for March 2012. The following is an excerpt from the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) report on the Iranian electoral system—its origins, framework, and elected bodies:
While the Agency continues to conduct verification activities under Iran’s Safeguards Agreement, Iran is not implementing a number of its obligations, including: implementation of the provisions of its Additional Protocol; implementation of the modified Code 3.1 of the Subsidiary Arrangements General Part to its Safeguards Agreement; suspension of enrichment related activities; suspension of heavy water related activities; and addressing the Agency’s concerns about possible military dimensions to Iran’s nuclear programme.
While the Agency continues to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material at the nuclear facilities and LOFs declared by Iran under its Safeguards Agreement, as Iran is not providing the necessary cooperation, including by not implementing its Additional Protocol, the Agency is unable to provide credible assurance about the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities in Iran, and therefore to conclude that all nuclear material in Iran is in peaceful activities.
- What impact will the call by the United States and major European powers for Syrian President Bashar Assad to step down--followed by heightened U.S. and EU sanctions--have on Syria-Iran relations?
They will push Syria even more into the arms of Iran. Syria is being gradually cut off from Western finances and relationships. So if the regime is going to survive, it will want to look east to Iran and perhaps China. Syria seems to also be improving its relationship with Iraq.
- Why has Iraq opted to align with Syria and Iran in backing Assad?
It is not entirely clear. Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki does not state motivations. But it appears that two things are going on. There is a domestic reason; Maliki is worried about Bashar al Assad being overthrown. Assad belongs to the minority Shiite sect of Alawites. Many of Assad's opponents are Sunnis- some of whom are Sunni fundamentalists. And some of those are the sort of people who were supporting the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. Maliki does not want them to come to power in Damascus and become his neighbors.
Another consideration that has been suggested is that Maliki owes his position as prime minister in this round [of elections held in 2010] to the support of Iran for coalition building of the Iraq Shiites. So he may be paying back a debt.
- Is this a new de facto alliance?
There seems to be a growing Tehran-Baghdad-Damascus axis for certain purposes. Iraq is a very complex place and it still is, in odd ways, an American ally. Though in this particular instance, Baghdad is siding with Iran and Syria against the stated U.S. position. The alliance appears to be over sectarianism and regional politics. There is nothing that Syria can do for Iraq, economically. Syria is potentially a trading partner but there is no economic carrot that Syria can offer Iraq. It is actually the other way around. According to one report-that Maliki has denied-the Iranians had pressured the Iraqi government to donate $ 10 billion to Syria to help Damascus get through its current crisis. The alliance is very much about who you will like to have in the capital of your neighbor.
- What are the factors behind the support of Iran and Iraq for Syria?
Iran is isolated and has very few allies in the Middle East-Lebanon and Syria being the primary ones. So it has every reason to act as patron to Syria. Syria forms a bridge between Iran and Hezbollah in Lebanon. So it is a way of protecting Iranian power and influence in the Levant. Iraq is not similarly isolated but it is in some ways being pushed into a Shiite set of alliances, both by the sectarian undertones to the uprising in Syria and by events in Bahrain, where the Shiite majority demanded the Sunni monarchy become a constitutional monarchy. [But the Shiites] were crushed with the help of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who were essentially acting as Sunni powers in the Gulf. This crushing of Bahrain's democracy movement by Sunni powers provoked large demonstrations in Iraq and angered a lot of Iraqi Shiites. Of course, Maliki is both the prime minister of Iraq and the main political leader of the Iraqi Shiites. So he is being pushed toward a kind of sectarian politics and a closer alliance with Iran and Damascus by the sectarian character of the Arab Spring in the Gulf region.
- How have Iran and Iraq reacted to unrest in Syria?
The Iranians have jumped up and down and been very vocal about the repression in Bahrain [and] they have [even] supported the Libyan uprising. In fact, they have supported all of the uprisings. They claimed that the uprisings are Islamic in character and inspired by Iran's revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini. But the Iranians do not say anything about what is going on in Syria. It is just like a blank slate and a point of clear hypocrisy on their part.
Tehran does not admit that there are protestors in Syria. They do not say anything about the movement in Syria. They do not deplore the violence used against peaceful non-combatants in a way that they have in other countries. They just do not talk about it. The Persian press is silent-a big contrast to their vocal position on the other Arab Spring revolts. With regard to Iraq, Nouri al Maliki gave a speech [in late August] in which he warned that too much pressure on the Assad regime could get to a point where Israel would be able to take advantage of the situation. This is a remarkable statement on Maliki's part. He has not typically talked much about Israel, although he did take a stand for Hezbollah in 2006 and was angry about the Gaza war in 2008-9.
The discourse Maliki used [on Israel] may have well been coming out of Tehran. And it seems to be a sign again that Maliki is being pushed [away] from the kind of American-sponsored states of the eastern Arab world and their discourse-[namely] Jordan and Egypt [which] have peace treaties with Israel. He is starting to sound much more like Iran or Lebanon, even Damascus, when it comes to Israel. It is a new and different discourse for Iraqi politics in the post-Saddam era.
The Islamists Are Coming
The Islamists Are Coming, edited by Robin Wright, surveys the rise of Islamist groups in the wake of the Arab Spring. Often lumped together, the more than 50 Islamist parties with millions of followers now constitute a whole new spectrum—separate from either militants or secular parties. They will shape the new order in the world’s most volatile region more than any other political bloc. Yet they have diverse goals and different constituencies. Sometimes they are even rivals.
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