Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 14, 2016

Why is it so difficult to know who "won" the elections in Iran?

The Economist's editors explain some of the reasons for the lack of clarity in the election results. And part of the explanation is that there may not be political parties in Iran, but people are organized and knowledgable.

Mr Rohani’s complicated victory
THE clerics disqualified the candidates, but they could not disqualify the people. So long were the queues outside many polling stations that Iran’s election commission postponed closing five times. Secular Iranians with pink hairdos stood in line waiting to vote against the mullahs…

By contrast, the turnout in south Tehran, a poorer, more conservative place, seemed dismal. Voters queued for hours in the north, but registered their ballots in the south within minutes…

The Council of Guardians… had banned most reformist candidates for the Majlis… the Assembly of Experts, who select the Supreme Leader. But the reformists outsmarted them. They compiled lists of those who remained, and when they had run out of their own candidates, filled them with the most innocuous of their rivals. They cut deals with pragmatic conservatives, like parliament’s speaker, Ali Larijani, whose deputy appeared on Tehran’s reformist list…

The upshot was a “List of Hope”, that was reformist in parts. Sometimes voters had a choice only between hardline and moderate conservatives…

n the capital the List of Hope won all 30 parliamentary seats and all but one of the 16 Assembly of Experts seats. Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, who has openly questioned the system of a single Supreme Leader, came first; Hassan Rohani, the president, third. Eight of the 30 were women. The reformist list won majorities in other cities including Isfahan, which hardliners had swept in 2012…

Given the overlap between the lists, the results are not quite so clear-cut. On a rough assessment of the 216 seats that were decided… the conservatives won just under half… The reformists got almost 40%, up from about 10%. So independents, including Mr Larijani, will hold the balance of power.

That should give Mr Rohani more room for manoeuvre to push through the laws he needs to open Iran for foreign investment and claw back some of the assets Iran’s big conglomerates [bonds], controlled by clerics and Revolutionary Guards, amassed when Iran was cut off from the world. Most independents will depend on his budget if they want to bring roads and other goodies to their provinces.

But parliament will also be a chaotic place… both parliamentary factions look rudderless. Mr Rohani, a consummate centrist, must decide whether to concentrate on the economy, as the Supreme Leader wants, or to pursue social change, as his supporters want.

The conservative establishment is far more powerful than the president. The Supreme Leader can veto laws. Judges and Revolutionary Guards do his bidding. Isolation has served the hardliners well, allowing them to muscle into sectors, particularly oil, previously filled by foreigners…

The difference between the two electoral lists is muddier than it appears. Conservatives may denounce their opponents as western stooges; reformists may mutter that the conservatives are the Shia equivalent of Islamic State. But in reality hardline and softer clerics intermarry, shift positions, and hedge their bets to keep power, says an Ayatollah in Qom who was once Ayatollah Khomeini’s Guardian Councillor… The views of voters count for far less than they should in Iran, but they do count for something.

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