After 14 years, the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission has a new chairman. Heshmatollah Falahatpisheh will replace Alaeddin Boroujerdi, who has headed the commission since 2005. Although both men are conservatives, they differ greatly in the policies they have adopted in the past. They also diverge in terms of the support they have derived from parliamentary factions. As such, the leadership shift is viewed by observers as much more than simply a game of musical chairs. Indeed, a commission headed by Falahatpisheh will likely experience very different days ahead.
Internal elections for the specialized commissions of Iran’s parliament are held once a year. In this year’s vote, Boroujerdi saw members of parliament such as Mojtaba Zonour and Javad Karimi-Ghodousi, who are opposed to the Rouhani administration, support his bid to remain as commission chairman. Meanwhile, his opponent, Falahatpisheh, won the post with the backing of the Reformists, the conservatives’ main rival. Reformist member of parliament Alireza Rahimi, who is a member of the national security and foreign policy commission, issued a statement following the chairmanship vote to stress that Falahatpisheh’s victory had been the result of Reformist support, adding that Reformist Mostafa Kavakebian, a fellow member of the national security and foreign policy commission, had even stepped down in favor of Falahatpisheh.
Thus, the expectation is that the new conservative chair of the commission will return the favor through the policies he will advocate. Of course, if Falahatpisheh’s policies were not already closer to those of the Reformists, they would not have preferred him over Boroujerdi to begin with. All these factors indicate that in the year ahead, the management of this commission will be more Reformist-oriented than in the past 14 years. This is especially the case since the speaker of the commission is now also a Reformist, after conservative Hossein Naghavi-Hosseini, a prominent opponent of the Rouhani administration, lost his post to member of parliament Ali Najafi Khoshrodi.
But why did Rouhani opponents back Boroujerdi while government supporters support Falahatpisheh? This is the key question that highlights the difference between these two conservatives.
Boroujerdi’s stances over time have demonstrated that he tries to solely coordinate his policies with the viewpoints of the pyramid of power in Iran. As such, he supported the nuclear negotiations with world powers, both under former conservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005-13) and under incumbent President Hassan Rouhani. Indeed, as chairman of the national security and foreign policy commission, Boroujerdi on several occasions declared his support for the negotiations during parliament’s open sessions. When Rouhani came to power and decided to pursue a completely different approach to the nuclear negotiations, Boroujerdi was again a defender of his policy. For instance, in 2015, a special parliamentary commission was set up to approve the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Boroujerdi was one of the five members of parliament who supported the landmark accord in that commission, even though the commission was more inclined toward the deal’s opponents, having members who are allies of former hard-line nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili or Ahmadinejad.
On the other hand, Falahatpisheh was neither a critic of the nuclear negotiations during the Ahmadinejad administration, nor did he make any attempt to support them either. However, he did express his opinion of then-candidate Jalili ahead of the 2013 presidential election, which led to Rouhani’s victory, and said, “Another movement that has taken shape within the Principlist camp is that of the Endurance Front, which Mr. Jalili represents. It represents an idealistic movement while having no special plan for the country and is continuing the same idealist policies that Mr. Ahmadinejad and his movement were based on.”
But more than anything, the difference between Boroujerdi and Falahatpisheh can be seen in how they coordinate their policies based on the viewpoints of Iran’s leadership, and particularly how their stances on two key foreign policy issues are completely opposite (one being Syria and Iraq, and the other Iran’s relations with Russia). Boroujerdi is among the Iranian politicians who are close allies to movements in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon. In recent years, he has traveled to these countries on several occasions and has expressed strong support for President Bashar al-Assad during visits to Syria.
Conversely, Falahatpisheh is perhaps among one of the first officials within the Iranian political establishment who has strongly criticized Assad’s policies. Referring to a call by the Syrian president for regional states not to turn Syria into a theater for their own conflicts in the aftermath of a series of Israeli airstrikes, Falahatpisheh retorted on May 12, “Bashar al-Assad’s passive stance comes as Iranian youths have been losing their lives while defending the territorial integrity of Syria for the past six years. It was after these measures that Russia began its support, and after the conditions for stabilizing the Syrian government, that Bashar al-Assad’s international equations moved forward.”
Their views on Russia also differ. While Boroujerdi is among those within the political establishment who believe that Iran should strengthen its tilt toward Russia and China, Falahatpisheh has a completely different view. In August 2016, when Iran allowed Russia to use an air base in the northwestern Iranian city of Hamadan for operations in Syria, he was the only person who criticized the move, calling it “against the constitution.” Moreover, in June, he said, “Iranians have repeatedly been a plaything in Russia’s [self]-interest seeking policies.”
As such, the evident differences in the political positioning of these two men can only guarantee one thing: Looking ahead, the Iranian parliament’s national security and foreign policy commission is about to be reshaped.