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.