Iran Election Watch 2012: Main Principalist groups emerge with weak majority

The results of the runoff vote for the 2012 Iranian parliamentary elections are in, and despite a high level of organization and strong campaigning by the two leading Principalist groups no strong majority has emerged.

As previously reported on IranPolitik, the first round of voting for the Islamic Consultative Assembly or Majlis, Iran’s legislature, was only able to elect 225 representatives to the 290 available seats, leaving 65 seats for a second round vote which took place on Friday 04 May 2012. The newly tabulated results give us a clearer picture of what the political makeup of the next Majlis will look like. (Note: All figures are approximations as precise numbers have yet to be released)

The Principalist Unity Front (PUF) list, a loose coalition of politicians associated with the right-wing Principalist faction, won the greatest number of seats  in the Majlis with 65 of its candidates being elected. The PUF is led by Ayatollah Mohammad-Reza Mahdavi-Kani, chairman of the Assembly of Experts, and includes well known politicians such as Ahmad Tavakoli and Mohammad-Reza Bahonar. PUF figures have tended to be very critical of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and more open to reconciliation with other political factions such as the Pragmatists (led by Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani) and to a lesser degree Reformists.

The Persevering Front of the Islamic Revolution (PFIR) list, a more cohesive grouping of Principalist figures linked with the first Ahmadinejad administration (2005-2009), were the next biggest winners with 22 seats overall. The PFIR is led by the far-right clergyman and Ahmadinejad associate Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah-Yazdi and includes politicians such as former Ahamdinejad political and security advisor Ruhollah Hosseinian. PFIR figures have generally supported Ahmadinejad and openly declared their hostility toward his rivals, including Pragmatists, Reformists, and the Green Movement. Another 61 seats were filled by candidates who appeared on both PUF and PFIR lists.

The remnants of the Reformist faction, long considered the left-wing of the Iranian political establishment, only managed to win 20 seats under the Democratic Front list, highlighting their impotence as a faction operating within the Islamic Republic’s political system. Ali Mothahari, a prominent critic of Ahmadinejad, ran and won under the Critics of the Tenth Administration Front/Voice of the Nation list after failing to gain the confidence of either the two major Principalist lists. Independent Principalists, including Ali Mothahari, won 17 seats overall, and the remaining 105 seats went to independents. The chart below shows the distribution of seats in Iran’s Ninth Majlis between the different groups which competed in this year’s election.

Editor’s Note: In theory, a coalition that combined the two main Principalists lists, the PUF and PFIR, would yield a slim majority of 148 out of 290 in the Majlis, allowing them to govern. In reality, the situation in the Majlis is much more complicated. The PUF and PFIR have fundamental disagreements over a number of key issues. For one thing, some of the PUF’s main representatives have been the Ahmadinejad administration’s harshest critics, while the PFIR is made up of people who are generally sympathetic to the president. The two sides also don’t see eye to eye on the 2009-2010 Green Movement protests. PUF attitude toward Pragmatists and Reformists, who played a key role in the protests, has ranged from neutral to sympathetic while PFIR has openly called for their expulsion from mainstream Iranian politics. Given these fundamental disagreements and their slim majority of three seats, a PUF-PFIR coalition appears less viable than before, opening the door to alternative coalitions that potentially involve the 142 Majlis representatives who are not part of two main Principalist groups.

Regardless of what precise coalition takes shape in the Majlis over the coming weeks and months, we can already begin to draw some preliminary conclusions about the election’s implications. First, as other commentators have pointed out, life for President Ahmadinejad will not become any easier, and he may finish his term as a lame duck president. While the PFIR includes some of his staunchest supporters, his decision to pursue the political program advocated by his controversial chief of staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei has left him relatively isolated.

Second, these elections are not a sign of strong support for the Islamic Republic, as the regime has claimed. Despite a heavy vetting of candidates by the Guardian Council, harsh political repression against critics of the regime, and stringent control over the media, the two main groups (the PUF and PFIR) that are believed to most represent Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the regime’s senior leadership did not fare that well in the election. What practical implications this could have for Khamenei is unclear. Finally, given murmurs that the presidency could be abolished and a parliamentary system established, the makeup of the current Majlis could have a lasting impact on governance in Iran.

The distribution of seats in Iran’s Ninth Majlis (May 2012)