Article date: 08 August 2011
On Monday Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, Deputy Speaker of the Majlis (Iran’s legislature), was quoted saying that like the Principalist faction, the Reformist faction is ideologically diverse and that some Reformists should be allowed to participate in the upcoming 2012 Majlis election.
The Reformists supported the Green Movement, which emerged after allegations of electoral fraud in the 2009 Iranian presidential elections. Reformists and their supporters have since been systematically eliminated from the Islamic Republic of Iran’s political system because of their leadership role in the Green Movement protests, with the Majlis as one of the last bastions where they still retain some formal representation.
Bahonar went as far as saying that not only did he hope that the Reformists participated in the upcoming Majlis election, but that he implored them to do so.
He also made veiled criticisms of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his supporters for creating divisions within the Principalists. Bahonar alleged that the Persevering Front of the Islamic Revolution, a pro-Ahmadinejad election committee for the upcoming Majlis election, would issue its own list of candidates independent of the Seven Plus Eight Committee/Principalist Unityh Committee, a unity election committee set up to represent all major Principalist groups and release a mutually agreed upon list of candidates for the election:
“Unfortunately one of the problems of Principlists is the mindset of some who see Principalism only in themselves and as a result behave in an extreme manner…Some [Principalists] have such a narrow definition of Principalism that many Principalists will not fit in this mould and if it is so presently in the Majlis we will not be able to find 20 Principalists, even though there are over 200 Principalists.”
Bahonar’s statement attests to the increasing polarization in the Principalist faction. Given the latter’s harsh criticism of Reformists over the last two years for their support of the Green Movement, it is significant that some Principalists are now making entreaties to their former rivals and shows the degree to which they have become alienated from Ahmadinejad.
Responding to Bahonar, Abbas Abdi, a leading Reformists and a US embassy hostage-taker in 1979, mused that Bahonar’s comments could either represent the view of the IRI’s ruling elite or a specific group within the Principalists. Abdi concluded that it was likely latter and that “Traditional Principalists” (those opposed to Ahmadinejad) were attempting to draw the Reformists into a losing battle, believing that the president’s supporters were favoured to win by the regime elite in the next election:
“The request that Reformists participate in the upcoming elections has a number of reasons. The most important reason is that in the election before us Traditional Reformists have no chance against the supporters of the government [the Ahmadinejad administration]. For many reasons in a contest with the government’s supporters the majority [of Traditional Principalists] will be defeated. They think that only with the participation of the Reformists can they have a chance and can have an effective presence [in the election]. These Principalists are not aware that Reformists will not play along in the competition between these two groups.”
Abdi reiterated Mohammed Khatami’s conditions for Reformist participation in the election,  high-lighting the release of political prisoners and the ability of parties to participate freely in politics (referring to Reformist prisoners and political parties) as the most important.
Editor’s note: As reported earlier,  it appears that the Seven Plus Eight unity committee is dead on arrival and that the Pro-Ahmadinejad Persevering Front will likely run an independent campaign, creating serious rifts among Principalists. The main point of contention appears to be the presence of several individuals with sympathies for Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, ex-President, current Chairman of the Expediency Council and a Reformist ally, in the Seven Plus Eight Committee. Ahmadinejad and his circle have historically been hostile to Rafsanjani and aim to eliminate his supporters in the Majlis in the upcoming election, thus seriously weakening the elder-statesman.
“Traditional Principalists”, to use Abdi’s terminology, have sensed their own weakness in the upcoming Majlis election and appear to be seeking an alliance with the Pragmatists and Reformists. However, the latter themselves are in a precarious situation. After largely leading the Green Movement protests which saw over a hundred killed and thousands arrested, the Reformists are loathe to participate in any elections under the current climate as they would lose much credibility in the eyes of supporters who heeded their call for street demonstration. If they were to participate it would likely only be under the conditions set by Khatami, yet it appears that these demands will not be taken seriously meaning that this scenario is also highly unlikely.