The Seven Plus Eight Committee and the Principalist 2012 Majlis Election Strategy

Leading Principalists have formed the Seven Plus Eight Committee in order to create greater cohesion within the Principalist faction in the run-up to the Ninth Majlis election in 2012, but the new unity committee may be dead on arrival. 

In the aftermath of the disputed 2009 presidential election which caused a political crisis in the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) and created an irreparable rift between the leading Principalist and Reformist factions, the Principalists appear to be organizing themselves to dominate upcoming Ninth Majlis election in order to consolidate their grip on power. The Seven Plus Eight Committee will serve as a coordinating body between various Principalist groups to minimize intra-factional conflict, eliminate rivals including Pragmatists and Reformists, and to create a much more efficient Principalist faction in the next Majlis.

The Seven Plus Eight Committee consists of two subcommittees, the Implementation Group (Harekat-e Ejrai) and the Refereeing and Supervision Group (Gorooh-e Davari va Nezarat), and is presided over by Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani who is also the Chairman of the Assembly of Experts. [1] The Implementation Group, which has eight members and will organize the candidate list for the Principalist faction, includes representatives of six leading Principalist figures and groups. The Refereeing and Supervision Group, as its name suggests, will act as a mediating body to settle disputes in the Implementation Group.

The figures and groups represented on the Implementation Group are as follow. [2] The “Supporters of the Government and Faction of the Islamic Revolution”, representing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his administration, has been allotted two representatives who have yet to be named. The “Followers of the Line of the Imam and Leader” is represented by ex-Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki and Mohammad-Reza Bahonar. Current Majlis Speaker Ali Larijani is represented by Kazem Jalili. Current Tehran Mayor Mohammad-Bagher Qalibaf is represented by Mehdi Khamooshi. The “Society of War-Veterans of the Islamic Revolution” is represented by Hossein Fadaei. Finally, the “Society of the Followers of Islamic Revolution” is represented by Ali-Reza Zakani.

The Refereeing and Supervision Group is composed of two parts. The “Three Person Committee for Principalist Unity” is made up of Habibollah Asghar-Owladi, a leader of the Pragmatist Motalefef party, Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel, ex-Majlis Speaker and Ali-Akbar Velayati, ex-Foreign Minister. The “Representatives of the Societies”, embodying the clergy, is composed of the “Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom” and the “Combatant Clergy Association”.

However, even before the Seven Plus Eight Committee can begin its work in earnest, a second Principalist committee closely linked with Ahmadinejad known as the Persevering Front of the Islamic Revolutionhas begun to work in parallel. Although the Persevering Front of the Islamic Revolution has stated that its work does not constitute a splinter from the Seven Plus Eight Committee, its very existence indicates major differences between Ahmadinejad and the other Principalists. The main cause of the tension appears to be the power Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, ex-President and current Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, may continue to exert in the Seven Plus Eight Committee, especially through Bahonar, Larijani, Ghalibaf and Asghar-Owladi. Pro-Ahmadinejad Principalists appear hell-bent on preventing Rafsanjani from exerting any influence in the next Majlis.

While a third committee, the pro-Rafsanjani “Standing Front of the Islamic Revolution”, led by Mohsen Rezaie, ex-IRGC commander, and Ahmad Tavakoli, member of the Majlis, does exist it does not appear to be important at this point.

The creation of the Seven Plus Eight Committee and the potential splintering of the Persevering Front of the Islamic Revolution may have three important implications for the upcoming Majlis elections and the IRI as a whole.

First, regardless of the differences between Principalists, all appear to be in agreement that Green Movement supporters and anyone who has not condemned it, namely the Reformists, should be completely eliminated from the political system and not allowed to participate, let alone win. While Mohammad Khatami, ex-President and prominent Reformist, appears to have staked his reputation on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei allowing some meaningful level of Reformist participation in 2012 Majlis elections by calling for reconcilliation, [3] this strategy appears to have failed.

Second, Rafsanjani, one of the founders of the IRI and a key Reformist ally, appears to be facing political extinction himself. Since losing the 2005 presidential election to Ahmadinejad, Rafsanjani has been increasingly pushed to the margins, for example through the loss of his chairmanship of the Assembly of Experts in 2011. While he continues to exert influence over the current Eight Majlis, pro-Ahmadinejad Principalists appear to be pushing to purge anyone thought to have sympathies toward this elder statesman. This issue may cause a splinter within the Principalists in the upcoming elections and potentially result in Rafsanjani’s further emasculation.

Finally, with the aggressive Principalist election strategy and the wholesale elimination of the Reformists and increasingly pro-Rafsanjani Pragmatists, the Ninth Majlis is very likely to be cut from a single cloth. Even within the Principalists, those viewed as lacking competency or being opportunists are likely to be eliminated, [4] resulting in a Majlis which is much more effective at moving forward its agenda. There is also likely to be less friction within the Ahmadinejad and future presidential administrations. Of course, many questions remain unresolved and with several months left to go before the election, nothing yet is set in stone.