Sunday, March 23, 2008


Outside View: Iran's election results

Published: March 21, 2008 at 10:40 AM


MOSCOW, March 21 (UPI) -- The first results of the parliamentary elections in Iran were not sensational.

As expected, the religious conservatives representing Iran's political elite, which aim to maintain the permanence of the Islamic state's foundations and the ayatollah regime, won recent elections by a landslide.

Their main opponents, reformers advocating liberal reforms in the economy and the social sphere and better relations with the West, did not even receive 20 percent of seats in the Majlis, the Iranian Parliament. However, it is still too early to talk about the unconditional victory of supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is at the center of this issue.

According to preliminary data, the hard-liners from the United Principle-ist Front and the Broad Principle-ist Front have not received the expected 70 percent of seats in the Majlis because independent candidates won more than 20 percent the seats.

Out of 290 seats, 260 have already been distributed. The United Front won 88 seats, the Broad Front 75, the coalition of reformers 23, and the National Trust Party (the second list of reformers) 17. The remaining 47 seats went to independent candidates.

Although Ahmadinejad's direct supporters -- neo-conservatives from the United Front -- received more than 30 percent of places, their chances of forming an absolute majority in the Majlis are doubtful. Everything depends on the independent candidates and hard-liners from the Broad Front.

For the most part, the Broad Front is represented by so-called moderate conservatives who do not share the president's positions on key directions in domestic and foreign policy. One of them is Ali Larijani, the recent secretary of the National Security Supreme Council. He was a former associate of the president but is likely to compete with him for the presidency in 2009.

Independent candidates are a mixture of moderate hard-liners and moderate reformers. Therefore, the Broad Front could create an alliance with independent candidates, and it is possible that the tone in the Majlis' eighth convocation will be set by this coalition of moderates rather than by Ahmadinejad's supporters.

The parliamentary elections in Iran are usually perceived as a dress rehearsal before the presidential elections. The 2004 elections were particularly telling in this respect. The reformers who were in the top echelons of power had reasons to hope for success. Their leader Mohammad Khatami confidently won in two presidential elections, but it was enough for the reformers to fall a little short of their goals in the economy, and the Iranian people gave their sympathies to the conservatives.

At first, the reformers lost the local council elections and the parliamentary elections, and then the presidential elections. They did not have any chance of success. The conservatives won a convincing victory, and eventually in the second round neo-conservative Ahmadinejad was launched into power by the wave of conservative success.

The current elections will not be an exception of the established practice. The political forces that will win the Majlis and local councils will have objective chances for success in the presidential elections in 2009.

What are Ahmadinejad's chances of winning the elections?

The 2006 municipal council elections showed a noticeable decline in his party's popularity. The neo-conservatives sustained huge losses for many reasons. The economic situation in the country was worse than before the presidential elections in 2005, and Ahmadinejad's confrontational policy toward the West put Iran on the brink of international isolation.

Local council elections are less controlled by the clergy, and their results more precisely reflect public opinion. This is why the neo-conservative failure in the 2006 elections foreshadowed the current acute political struggle on the eve of the Majlis elections. Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has joined this struggle and become an ally of the president. For the first time in Iran's history, he has urged the nation to vote for the current president and his neo-conservative party.

This is a tell-tale fact. Most likely, the top echelons of the radical clergy see the reformers as a threat to the ayatollah regime sometime in the foreseeable future. This time, Khamenei has managed to partially save Ahmadinejad's image, but this is not likely to be enough for his protege's victory in 2009.

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