Iran Election Watch 2012: Runoff election held

On Friday 04 May 2012 Iranians returned to the polls for runoff elections after the first round of voting only managed to fill 225 out of the 290 seats in the Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majlis, Iran’s legislature. A minimum of a quarter of first-round ballots cast for an electoral district are required for a candidate to be elected to the Majlis. In Tehran’s electoral district, which elects 30 representatives to the Majlis, only five candidates were able to meet this threshold. In the second round it is sufficient to get a simple majority of runoff votes to be elected.

With 65 seats still up for grabs, how does the balance of power between the different factions look? The Principalist faction, the right-wing of the Islamic Republic’s political establishment, had two groups competing for votes under their banner, both of which had the blessing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini. The Principalist Unity Front (PUF), headed by Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani (chairman of the Assembly of Experts which selects and oversees the supreme leader), was the largest of these groups with over 100 seats. The Persevering Front of the Islamic Revolution (PFIR), headed by Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi, was the second largest with 60 seats.

The Reformist faction, once a major player in the Majlis and the main backer of the Mir Hossein Mousavi in the 2009 Iranian presidential election, had discussed boycotting the election but ultimately decided to participate. The various Reformist groups, including the Democratic Front, obtained a grand total of only 35 seats, meaning they will not be major players in the Ninth Majlis. Independent candidates took 30 seats, and five seats are reserved for religious minorities.

Editor’s Note: Although 65 seats remain contested in the run-off election, it is clear that the Ninth Majlis will be once again be dominated by the Principalist faction. However, the next Principalist majority will likely have some key differences from the previous one.

Neo-Principalists, who in the past were among the main supporters of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and advocated more radical policies, have organized more effectively under PFIR’s banner and are likely to take the Principalist faction further to the right in the next Majlis. In fact, while the Majlis in the late-1990s to early-2000s was characterized by the conflict between Reformist and Principalists, the former are likely to be marginal players and the main conflict will be within the Principalists. The run-off elections will be crucial in determining the balance between the PUF and PFIR.

Regardless, the PFIR has already made its mark by throwing its weight behind Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel to replace Ali Larijani as speaker of the Majlis. Haddad-Adel, who was on both the PUF and PFIR lists, is likely to lead Iran’s legislature in its ninth session.