Skip to main content

Iran's Reformists keep their eyes on the prize

Despite pressures from the Guardian Council and fierce competition with Principlists, Iranian Reformists appear ever focused on their goals in the country’s parliamentary elections.
Iranians look at a list of candidates' names during elections for the parliament and Assembly of Experts, which has the power to appoint and dismiss the supreme leader, at a polling station in Tehran February 26, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA  ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. - RTX28NK7

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.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise AI-driven

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

All premium Industry Newsletters - Monitor the Middle East's most important industries. Prioritize your target industries for weekly review:

  • Capital Markets & Private Equity
  • Venture Capital & Startups
  • Green Energy
  • Supply Chain
  • Sustainable Development
  • Leading Edge Technology
  • Oil & Gas
  • Real Estate & Construction
  • Banking

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in

The Middle East in your inbox Insights in your inbox.

Deepen your knowledge of the Middle East

Trend Reports

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (4th R) attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping (3rd L) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on February 22, 2019. (Photo by HOW HWEE YOUNG / POOL / AFP) (Photo credit should read HOW HWEE YOUNG/AFP via Getty Images)

From roads to routers: The future of China-Middle East connectivity

A general view shows the solar plant in Uyayna, north of Riyadh, on March 29, 2018. - On March 27, Saudi announced a deal with Japan's SoftBank to build the world's biggest solar plant. (Photo by FAYEZ NURELDINE / AFP) (Photo credit should read FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)

Regulations on Middle East renewable energy industry starting to take shape

Start your PRO membership today.

Join the Middle East's top business and policy professionals to access exclusive PRO insights today.

Join Al-Monitor PRO Start with 1-week free trial