TEHRAN, Iran — Compared to past elections, the Feb. 26 parliamentary elections are different in many key aspects. For one, the Reformists, who after an eight-year hiatus regained power in 2013 with the election of moderate President Hassan Rouhani, have been doing all they can to not only maintain their position but also win as many seats in parliament as possible. Their stepped-up efforts could clearly be seen in the final days of campaigning. But will they have the means to overcome the obstacles in their way?
The Reformists put forward a list of 30 names that they endorsed for the parliamentary elections. This ticket, called “The List of Hope,” is accompanied by the campaign slogan “Tranquility and Economic Growth.” However, the presence of a number of lesser known — or even unknown — people on the ticket has been causing somewhat of a controversy. Another controversial feature of the list was the presence of three moderate Principlist lawmakers: Ali Motahari, Behrouz Nemati and Kazem Jalali.
The question now is whether the Reformist ticket will be able to repeat what was seen in 2013, when a coalition of Reformists and moderates brought Rouhani to power.
Mohammad Atrianfar, a prominent Iranian journalist and Reformist figure, told Al-Monitor, “Considering the policies that were set and the unbelievable scrutiny with which the Guardian Council monitored the Reformist candidates, many of the group’s well-known figures were disqualified. What the Reformists were eventually left with were individuals who had very little prominence.”
So does this mean that the Reformists — stripped of their most prominent candidates — had no choice but to turn to people such as the three Principlists now among their ranks?
Hossein Marashi, a leading member of the Reformist Policymaking Council, told Al-Monitor, “We had no other choice. We, too, would have liked to present a list that had been composed of solely Reformists, a list that could boost the Reformist badge, but given the atmosphere created for us by the respectable Guardian Council, we had no other choice. We have no problems in terms of human resources, but it was best that well-known individuals be introduced.”
Meanwhile, the main 30-member list presented by the Principlists, the “Principlist Coalition,” campaigned under the slogan "[Secure] Livelihoods, Security and Progress." Expectedly, there was considerable debate on this list, too, but what is most clear about the ticket is how it projected the lack of unity among Principlists that was seen in the 2013 presidential elections.
The Principlist Coalition has indeed raised objections from many within the Principlist movement, with some within the Principlist camp even refusing to accept it. Before finalizing the list, the Principlist Coalition had agreed that, based on a previously signed pledge, anyone whose name had not made it to the ticket would withdraw their candidacy in favor of those who had. However, after the list was published, only a few of those who had successfully made it through the Guardian Council’s vetting process actually withdrew. The rest continued their campaigning with full force. Gholam Ali Haddad Adel, the spokesman for the Principlist Coalition, who also headed the ticket, addressed these figures, saying, “For the sake of God, withdraw.” His words are a clear indication of the weakness and lack of unity within the Principlist camp — a major boon to the Reformists.
Speaking on the best strategy for the Reformists, given the situation, Atrianfar, the prominent journalist and Reformist figure, told Al-Monitor, “Our serious advice is to avoid any unethical moves during the elections. From the start, we told the Principlists to avoid discord and try to maintain their unity and to allow for a noble and strong competition between the two sides. The Reformists followed this advice, and despite the extensive disqualifications on their side, they not only succeeded in maintaining their unity and solidarity, but also implemented what the supreme leader and the establishment approve of.”
As to whether the Reformist list has the necessary political weight and strength, Marashi of the Reformist Policymaking Council told Al-Monitor, “If the weight of this list is based on the weight of its backers, such as [former moderate and Reformist presidents] Mr. [Ali Akbar] Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mr. Mohammad Khatami, as well as the Reformist movement and party, then naturally it is strong. But if we want to base it on the weight of each individual person on the list, and compare it to the list that the Reformists would have actually liked to put forward, then it will not have an equal weight. But we hope that the existing obstacles in our society will be removed and that this list can enter parliament.”
Less than 24 hours are left until the first results the Islamic Republic’s 10th parliamentary elections are expected — a parliament that can decide which kind of government will take office in 2017. For now, patience is needed to see which pieces of this game of chess will come out victorious.