Iran Election Watch 2012: Larijani elected speaker as the dynamics of the new Majlis emerge

The Ninth Majlis (or Islamic Consultative Assembly), Iran’s legislature elected in the March 2012 vote, held their inaugural session on Sunday 27 May 2012. The session, which was attended by the Islamic Republic’s most senior officials including the representative of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, contained a number of small incidents which are a good indication of the current state of affairs in Iran’s elite politics.

Ahmadinejad and Rafsanjani, who are considered political rivals, entered the session side by side creating an interesting moment which may or may not have been staged. As Ahmadinejad rose to give his address to the newly elected Majlis, former speaker of the Fifth Majlis Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri (also an Ahmadinejad opponent) publicly marked his disapproval of the Iranian president by walking out. Finally, after finishing his speech Ahmadinejad immediately left the Majlis.

The president’s somewhat frigid interaction with the new Majlis may be a sign of things to come, an idea which is supported by the results of the second session of the new Majlis held on Monday 28 May 2012. During this session Ali Larijani, another Ahmadinejad rival, was elected as speaker of the Majlis. The specific manner of his election says much about the factional balance of power within the Majlis.

Two main candidates had been vying for the position of speaker of the Ninth Majlis: Larijani and Gholam-Ali Haddad-Adel – head of the Seventh Majlis. On Sunday the Principalist Unity Front (PUF), which had its session in the old Majlis building, backed Larijani with 148 of its members voting in favour of his candidacy. On the same day the Persevering Front of the Islamic Revolution (PFIR), which held its session in the Constitutional Building (the site of Iran’s first Majlis which came into being after the Constitutional Revolution of 1905), backed Haddad-Adel with a majority of its members voting in favour of his candidacy. On Monday’s Majlis session Larijani clinched the speaker position with 173 votes in favour, 100 against, and two abstentions. It appears that at the last moment 20 PFIR representatives may have switched their support from Haddad-Adel to Larijani, pointing to a possible rift in the PFIR.

Editor’s Note: The dynamics of the new Majlis appear to be much like the old, with Ali Larijani staying on as speaker and the anti-Ahmadinejad PUF leading the new majority under the banner of the Followers of the Supreme Leader bloc. The pro-Ahmadinejad PFIR led an aggressive and well-organized campaign to gain seats in the March 2012 election, but ultimately came up short. While they went into the election with the backing of Iran’s hardliners, their relatively weak showing appears to have diminished the enthusiasm for them in the upper echelons of Iranian politics. Though Khamenei has called on the executive and legislature to stop challenging each other, they are likely to continue on their collision course on the Targeted Subsidy Plan and other issues.

As Ahmadinejad nears the end of his term, he is likely to increasingly become a lame-duck president and marginal figure in Iranian politics. This begs many questions about the fate of the hardliners who helped facilitated Ahmadinejad’s rise to power from 2003 onward. Do they, who dreamed of redefining Iranian politics, have a future? It is likely too soon to begin reading their obituary. Since entering national politics on a large-scale in 2005 the hardliners have been the driving engine behind many of the social, economic, and political shifts seen in Iran, including economic reform, a hardline foreign policy, and more. But their project has clearly now hit major obstacles. With the 2013 presidential election just around the corner, we may soon have a better idea of what the future holds in store for them. The PUF’s victory in the Majlis puts them in a strong position to attempt to field a candidate for the presidency. The outcome however is far from certain.