Elections to the Iranian Majlis are usually of great interest with analysts. And there is a reason for that. The vote determines the political balance in the legislature for the next four years, but this time the outcome will largely depend on Iran's foreign policy in the face of increasing confrontation with the United States and Israel.
Traditionally, the political struggle in Iran is between the conservatives (or followers of Islamic revolution principles) and the reformers, i.e. the more liberal wing of Iranian politicians. However, the Islamic Republic has approached the 11th parliamentary elections with a split in the conservative camp and a whoop of reformer candidates. So the struggle for seats in the Majlis will actually unfold between various conservative candidates.
The less radical part of the conservatives united in a coalition of the Islamic Revolution Forces Council with Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf topping its list. Being is a well-known figure in the country, he had been the capital's mayor for 12 years, and before that he headed the Tehran police and was repeatedly nominated for presidency.
Given that the conservatives face no rivalry on the part of the reformers, Ghalibaf will not just enter the Majlis but can even claim the speaker's seat if he manages to secure a majority. The office is vacant since the current Parliament head, Ali Larijani, decided not to run again after having been in office for the last 12 years.
However, the most radical conservatives do not count Ghalibaf as part of their camp and consider him more of a liberal for his having repeatedly spoken in favor of the 2015 nuclear deal and interaction with the West. Therefore, the ultraconservative Front of Islamic Revolution Stability refused to unite with him. It is led by far-right Ayatollah Muhammad-Taqi Misbah-Yazdi, an ardent enemy of the current moderate government. The Front runs in the election with its own list.
In the opposite camp, there are seven reformist parties that created the Coalition for Iran. But even the split in the conservative camp brought little cheer to the reformers. The current election campaign is generally held in a rather nervous atmosphere. The Supervisory Council (or the Guardian Council), an influential regulator under Iran's supreme and spiritual leader, has denied access to the election to an unprecedented number of reformist candidates, including the most prominent ones.
And that's not to mention thousands of newcomers barred from the election process, including 34-year-old Kambiz Mehdizadeh, President Hassan Rouhani's son-in-law, who wanted to represent the northwestern constituency of Tabriz.
In fact, the purge of the reformers' ranks opened the Majlis doors to the conservative MPs, which even prompted President Hassan Rouhani's opposition to the Supervisory Council. The head of the Iranian Cabinet warned that removing the reformers would make the election a formality. He compared the Guardian Council's actions with a store owner praising the variety of products on his shelves represented by generally one and the same product. People prefer political pluralism in elections, he said at a recent Cabinet meeting.
However, it's not cut and dried. And the reformers' challenge is not only mass disqualification. Many of them are disappointed by the inability to implement the plans declared.
The nuclear agreement, which offered prospects of lifting sanctions, external market openness, foreign investment guarantees and restitution of blocked assets in exchange for a meaningful restriction to the Iranian nuclear program, has failed due to Washington's withdrawal from the deal and lack of real support from the European Union and the trio represented by the United Kingdom, Germany and France. Over the past two years, major foreign companies have left the Islamic Republic's market, the Iranian rial has collapsed, and foreign debt has grown from $ 5.5 billion in 2014 to $ 9 billion in 2019. Unemployment does not fall below 12%. Inflation is up to 36% per year. Life has become really tough for ordinary people, especially younger ones.
And the number-one target of accusations of economic policy failure was the moderate government. In recent days, reformers have even called on President Hassan Rouhani to resign, which in the run-up to the election looks like an opportunistic trick in an attempt to distance themselves from the moderates, in an alliance with whom they won the last parliamentary election.
The murder of General Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a national hero of Iran, whose name is tightly bound with victories over terrorists in Iraq and Syria, by the Americans at the Baghdad international airport, gave the upper hand to the most radical conservatives and fundamentalists who are convinced that negotiating with the West is impossible. In their opinion, the million-strong processions at funeral ceremonies and during the 41st anniversary of the victory of the Islamic Revolution have only accentuated Iran's national unity.
Thus, the rivalry for the 290 seats in the Majlis will be contested by 7,148 eligible candidates, the crushing majority of whom are representatives of the conservative wing.
With a lack of meaningful competition, voter turnout is expected to be low. Fearing that this would demonstrate a gap between the people and the establishment, senior Iranian officials urged citizens to head to the polls. Thus, President Hassan Rouhani asked voters not to turn back upon the elections, adding that even with visible electoral process shortcomings, it cannot be tolerated that national unity is shaken on the polling day.
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme and spiritual leader of the Islamic Republic, has also urged not to ignore the election. "The formation of a strong Parliament depends on how the majority of people votes. It’s possible that someone doesn’t like me but if they like Iran they must come to the ballot box," the spiritual leader said.
The paradox is that with the lowest turnout in the capital, it is there that the deepest rivalry will unfold for the 30 seats meant for deputies from the capital constituency. In fact, the Iranians will have to choose between a tough and a very tough Majlis.