Iran’s 2016 Elections: Change or Continuity?

IranPolitik managing editor Farzan Sabet has written a new report for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:

Iran’s moderate alliance made gains in recent parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections. Composed of the country’s centrist and reformist political currents, this group refers to itself as moderate in the Iranian context to appeal to voters by painting its rivals as extremists. The new parliament is likely to be more supportive than the last parliament of President Hassan Rouhani on key issues such as the implementation of the nuclear deal with the UN Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany (P5+1) and Iran’s reintegration into the global economy. The legislature is also likely to make fewer efforts to impeach the president’s cabinet ministers and may even be more open to expanding social and political freedoms. 

The Assembly of Experts, which in theory can choose, supervise, and remove the country’s supreme leader, will most likely remain subservient to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for the duration of his tenure. However, the newly elected body may choose the seventy-six-year-old supreme leader’s successor before its term ends. The elections left moderates with a core number of seats for a potential coalition to block a hardline successor to Ayatollah Khamenei, which could change the political trajectory of the Islamic Republic.

The election results confirm four important trends in Iranian politics that have been observable since the 2013 presidential contest: the continuing unity of the moderate alliance, disunity in the conservative alliance between the hardliners and the traditionalists, voter engagement with the electoral process, and the use of alternative media to overcome the state’s media monopoly during campaigns. If these trends hold, the hardliners—the powerful political current most opposed to the agenda of Rouhani and his moderate allies—might have to change their strategy to stem their own decline. This may mean overhauling their political platforms and reconfiguring their alliances to do better in elections, or, in the absence of such actions, relying even more heavily on coercion and unelected power centers such as the judiciary and the security forces.

To read the rest of the article, visit the Carnegie Endowment.