On February 21, Iran held elections for its 11th Parliament. These latest elections marked the lowest voter turnout in over four decades in Iran. Predictably, they also led to a hardline takeover of Parliament after a state-led disqualification of major reformist candidates. This political wrangling between the hardline and reformist camps, along with growing public dissatisfaction in Iran, led to a 42.57 percent nationwide participation in the recent elections.
Still, hardliners reject that their victory was hollow. They blame lower voter turnout on the propaganda of exiled opposition groups which dissuaded Iranians from participating in the polls after the outbreak of the coronavirus in Iran. Rejecting that the disqualification of reformist candidates may have also led to a less-than-ideal voter turnout rate, the hardliners also blame the current 10th reformist-led Parliament in Iran for under-performing.
After the elections, political rifts between the reformists and hardliners appear to have widened. The hardline Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the latest elections showed that Iran was a religiously-led democracy, given that 37 elections have been held in the last 41 years since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979. But President Hassan Rouhani, who is supported by most reformists, warned that the new members of Parliament had to represent the entire country and not just their supporters. The hardliners say he is incapable of running the country, given the frequent anti-government protests, and is in no position to tell them what to do.
Defiantly, Iran’s hardliners – otherwise called the principlists – insist that they have a strong support base irrespective of the fact that mass disqualifications may have either barred or dissuaded prominent reformists from competing against them. In Iran’s provinces, hardliners claim they have had a major victory. Nearly 71 percent of the people in the Province of Kehgoliyeh and Boyerahmad, for example, and 43 percent in Qom, voted, and mostly for hardliners. In the capital Tehran, 1,259 candidates competed in the elections, in a city where most middle-class residents have generally voted for reformist candidates. Only 26.2 percent of eligible voters – just 2,539,763 of the capital’s residents – participated in the elections. The hardliners managed to win all the capital’s designated 30 parliamentary seats.
The top two principlist candidates and potential presidential candidates from Tehran were the former mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and Seyyed Mostafa Agha MirSaleem. They each won 1,265,287 and 892,318 votes respectively. At least 14 hardliners loyal to the former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won seats in the recent elections. This includes the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Agency Fereydoon Abbassi, the former Minister of Transport and Urban Planning Ali Nikzad, the former Minister of Communications Reza Taghipoor, the former Deputy Minister of Planning Golam Hossein Rezvani, and the former head of the hardline Fars News Agency Seyyed Nezamoldin Mousavi.
In contrast, Majid Ansari who is a reformist and deputy for parliamentary affairs for President Rouhani won only 69,151 votes and came 36th in Tehran. The former mayor of Tehran and head of the reformist Executives for Construction faction Golam Hossein Karbaschi failed to win a seat. Alireza Mahjoob won the highest number of votes cast for the reformists in Tehran, 95,393, which put him 34th on the list, whereas the last principlist winner of Tehran’s 30-memberlist won 642,214 votes.
The hardliners also like to highlight that only 56 of the current members of Parliament were voted back despite the fact that 248, out of a total number of 290 current sitting members of Parliament, either ran in the elections or registered to run before being disqualified. With election results in, it turns out that 223 principlists, 36 independents, and 19 reformists have so far won seats. In less than two months, Iran will hold a second round of voting for candidates who received fewer votes to determine the setup of its next Parliament. Overall, the new Parliament which will start work in 12 weeks is expected to show an 81 percent change in its setup compared to the 10th Parliament.
The hardliners claim that the election outcomes indicate that Iranians have turned away from the reformists, who could now face political extinction, and have embraced the principlists. In return, the hardline Coalition Council of the Islamic Revolution Forces, headed by Gholam Hossein Hadad Adel, insists that his camp will fix the ailing Iranian economy.
Moving forward, the hardliners also seem keen on building new coalitions. To this end, members of two main hardline factions from the Coalition Council, the paydari and vahdat, have vowed to work on forming a strong parliamentary bloc to ensure that the people of Iran will continue to support them. This goal can be achieved, they insist, by defying the reformist liberal agenda for Iran, and fixing the differences within the hardline camp.