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What Will Iran's Next Parliament Look Like?

January 21, 2020
Pezhman Tahavori
6 min read
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the former mayor of Tehran, and a former presidential candidate, will be one of the most prominent politicians running in the elections
Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the former mayor of Tehran, and a former presidential candidate, will be one of the most prominent politicians running in the elections

In today's war-torn and crisis-ridden Iran, less attention than usual has been paid to the forthcoming parliamentary elections, which will determine the Islamic Republic’s eleventh majlis, or parliament, and is due to take place in 35 days, on February 21.

So what is the future for the next Iranian parliament? Who will be running, and what kind of politicians are they? Which have them been approved under the rules of Iran’s constitution? 


The Candidates

In the run-up to the elections for Iran’s eleventh parliament, more than 16,000 hopeful politicians across the country put themselves forward — a record number in the history of the Islamic Republic. In 2016, approximately 12,000 people registered to be candidates for the tenth parliament. Does this 30 percent increase in the number of candidates mean that people are more engaged in politics than they have been in the past? Does it reflect a passion for parliamentary politics not seen before? 

Probably not, based on the available evidence.

The number of candidates has increased dramatically, but a look at the list of those running shows that the variety of candidates has not increased or changed  — although had that been the case, this could have had a direct effect on voter turnout. In fact, there is a clear lack of popular, well-known figures among the candidates, whatever the political camp: nationalists, national-religious factions, transformationalists [those who advocate for peaceful regime change], leftists, or other groups. 

Even the most prominent reformists have refrained from running in the elections  — although today those calling themselves reformists can’t necessarily be considered to be part of the same group, given their broad interests, inclinations and affiliations in Iran’s current political atmosphere. 

The number of candidates has increased because those political activists in the mainstream movement have found that the reformists, traditionally their main opponents, are so far absent for this election period. Therefore, they see the election being shaped by intra-party politics and recognize an optimal chance for traditional parties to gain power. Voters  will mainly have to choose from between people running on the conservative principlist spectrum —such as the Stability Front and the Resistance Front  —and among traditional fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists.


Vetting Process: “Appointments” Not Elections

In Iran, the eligibility process is not just about a candidate meeting criteria set out in election law, it’s about approval from the Guardian Council. As a result, Iran currently operates as a two-tiered process. First the Guardian Council elects the candidates it has approved to run, and in the second stage, the Iranian people elect the representatives from among the Guardian Council's elected candidates. For this reason, some politicians, including Mustafa Tajzadeh, a reformist politician, have referred to Iranian elections as "appointments."

After reviewing the candidates' eligibility, the Board of Supervisors of the Guardian Council assessed the 16,000 candidates and approved the nomination of 5,746 candidates — 41 percent of the individuals that put their names forward. At this stage, the majority of the reformist candidates have been removed from the race, so that in most constituencies, there is no other chance of a candidate outside the fundamentalist camp. President Hassan Rouhani has even spoken about it: "It's no longer about elections,” he said [Persian link].

So far, with a very low margin of error, it is safe to say that Iran’s eleventh parliament will be under the control of the conservative principlists.

So what kind of conservative politician will dominate parliament? 

According to Article 10 of the Committee of the Activities of Political Parties and Groups Act, nine fronts and factions are legally entitled to play a role in the forthcoming elections. Of these nine, three factions, “the Coordination of Reforms” group, “the Islamic Iran Reformists," and "transformationalists" have essentially little chance of winning, especially if there is a low turnout, because they have few candidates. The two fronts "independents and moderates" and the Progress, Prosperity, and Justice party belong to the moderate spectrum in Iranian politics, and this group traditionally occupies a modest number of seats in the parliament. They held the most seats in the first parliament, but were considered reformists since many of them entered into post-revolution politics under that banner, but they soon moved toward a less reformist and more moderate brand of politics. There is no real reformist electoral base at the moment, so they also have little chance of performing well in the forthcoming elections.

So parliament will probably be comprised of one or more of the four political fronts, which are considered to be principlist groups: 

1- The Popular Front of the Revolutionary Forces, led by Mohammad Hassan Rahimian

2- Qom Province's Front for Accountability led by Ahmad Amirabadi Farahani (linked to the Stability Front)

3- The Coalition of the Islamic Revolutionary Forces led by Gholam Ali Haddad Adel

4- The Islamic Iran Resistance Front led by Abdol Hossein Rouholamini


Determining whether the election will result in a coalition of these four fronts and the announcement of a single list of candidates is almost impossible because there is such a wide range of principlists running — and because there is significant disagreement among them. In the absence of a reformist rival, the group could run under one umbrella group. However, it is likely that these four fronts will narrow down to two, led by the former mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, and a coalition close to the Stability Front probably led by Morteza Agha-Tehrani. The eleventh parliament will therefore look something like this:

1. Conservative principlists will win a majority, with two ranks of supporters from the Ghalibaf Front of the Islamic Revolutionary Forces and supporters of Mojtaba Zolnuri or another representative from the Front of Stability; moderates or independents will win a minority of seats.

2. The reformist faction, with the smallest number of seats, will make up the weakest faction in the eleventh parliament — if they gain many seats at all. It is likely they will not win enough to be able to form a front of any sort. 

3. The upper house in the eleventh parliament will be held by political extremists close to the Stability Front.

4. The eleventh parliament of the Islamic Republic could be the most militaristic parliament ever — certainly it seems very possible that more candidates with a military background will be running. Both Ghalibaf and Zolnouri are former members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps, and they have large numbers of supporters willing to campaign for them. As the deadline for registration approached, the Ministry of Interior announced that nine percent of the candidates (about 1,500 people) came from a military background, although the percentage is most likely higher than this, as the ministry’s figures were based on the number of people running who had also been members of the Revolutionary Guards or the Basij, or both. Since retiring from service, they have all mainly become government employees, including Ghalibaf and Zolnouri.

With the nuclear deal (the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) effectively defunct, the resumption of Iran’s nuclear activities, the escalation of international frictions, and the military shift away from Lebanon and Syria and to Iran’s sensitive border areas, as well as widespread public discontent, mass protests and a worsening economy that makes the lives of ordinary people more difficult by the day, the Iranian government is in crisis. In such an emergency, the Iranian regime will want to have the whole country, including the parliament, at the disposal of the military.

In such an atmosphere, Iran’s next parliament will most likely lend the government legitimacy, reinforcing tactics of suppression and violence and even advocating war. Chants of "Death to America" ​​will most likely be heard on the floor of Iran’s parliament for the next four years.


January 26, 2020

Let's be serious here... Do you really think there's a truly functional parliament within IRI?


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