May 4, 2016
Iran’s New Parliament: Fewer Clerics, More Women
By Mehrnaz Samimi
Women will edge out clerics by at least one and possibly two seats, 17-16. Moreover candidates from the so-called List of Hope --consisting of reformists and pragmatic supporters of the government of President Hassan Rouhani – gained a plurality in the 290-member parliament.
The April 29 elections were necessary to determine the winners of 68 seats for which no candidate received at least 25 percent of the votes during the original balloting on Feb. 26. The runoffs took place in 21 provinces and 121 cities; 176 candidates competed of whom 55 were on the List of Hope.
The number of clerics elected is a sharp drop from the early days of the revolution – only one-tenth the number who participated in the first parliament and 11 fewer than in the outgoing ninth parliament. Equally stunning, Etemad newspaper writes that out of the 80 representatives who opposed Iran’s recent nuclear agreement, only 12 won re-election.
Mohammad Khatami, Iran’s former reformist president, published a message ahead of the runoffs, asking people to participate in the second round of elections in order to “complete what they did in the first round” and “help Rouhani’s government,” a request that clearly influenced many Iranians. In his message, Khatami requested that people “support the government in the post-JCPOA [nuclear deal] era, in economic and international domains, and to further honor the people’s rights.”
The Iranian people’s active participation in the parliamentary elections demonstrated their desire to witness change and reform in society and brought back memories of the sixth parliament and Khatami’s reformist era.
Many analysts consider this year’s elections, both rounds, as a vote of confirmation for Rouhani. Even though many people have yet to feel the economic benefits of the nuclear agreement, which went into full implementation on Jan. 16, Rouhani and his team are given credit for the unprecedented negotiations with the United States and other countries that led to the deal and the lifting of many economic sanctions.
By sending a large number of moderates and reformists to parliament, voters hope to ease the task of Rouhani and his cabinet in re-integrating Iran into the global economy and diplomacy. A more progressive parliament is likely to be less obstructive of the government’s policies and less hostile toward cabinet ministers than the outgoing body.
The runoff elections went off peacefully and uneventfully, with the exception of one shooting incident, which police described as “aimless” and “a non-threat to national security.” The shooting happened as the result of a fight between supporters of two candidates in Mamasani, in Fars province. The perpetrators were identified and pursued by police, and the incident prompted the cancellation of a two-hour extension for voting in Mamasani. The extension was implemented elsewhere in the country in an effort to encourage turnout.
The fate of Minoo Khaleghi, a reformist candidate from Isfahan who was denied her seat by the Guardian Council, a clerical oversight body, despite having gotten the required number of votes in the first round, is still unknown.
President Rouhani and his parliamentary deputy announced in speeches and a retweet on Rouhani’s Twitter feed that they consider the number of women elected to parliament to be 18. Sources connected to the Guardian Council insist on 17, counting out Khaleghi. No reason has been given by the Guardian Council for Khaleghi’s disqualification. Iran’s Arman newspaper published a timeline on the issue on May 3 and suggested that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei might be asked to get involved to resolve the matter.
Meanwhile, pictures of an unveiled Khaleghi have circulated on Telegram, a widely-used messaging application in Iran, starting on May 1 -- hours after Rouhani’s speech mentioning 18 as the number of newly-elected female representatives. It is believed that hardliners sent the pictures in an effort to sabotage her bid to claim a seat in parliament. Mohammad-Reza Aref, a reformist leader in the parliament and a former member of Khatami’s cabinet, harshly criticized the publication of the pictures on his own Instagram page.
Tabnak, a news website linked to former Revolutionary Guard leader Mohsen Rezai, wrote that neither reformists nor conservatives would dominate the tenth parliament and have an “end all, be all” role. Tabnak continued, “Reformists will desperately need independents’ votes to push their agenda forward in the parliament. That said, multiple scenarios could be predicted for the method of interaction between reformists and conservatives.”
It remains unclear who the speaker of the new parliament will be. While some have speculated that incumbent speaker Ali Larijani, a pragmatic conservative, will continue in that position, others have suggested Aref will be chosen given the large number of reformist deputies.
Soheila Jelodarzadeh, a veteran representative from Tehran, ’s veteran representative in Majles, predicted that competition between Larijani and Aref would continue.
While the Supreme Leader has the final say on all key political decisions, parliament must approve budgets and cabinet ministers and can ease or hinder the government’s agenda. A less obstructive parliament could boost the chances for Rouhani’s own re-election in 2017.
Mehrnaz Samimi is a journalist and simultaneous interpreter based in Washington, DC. On Twitter: @MehrnazSamimi