Will the Iranian parliament be flooded with conservatives?

Will the Iranian parliament be flooded with conservatives?

On February 11, the Iranian Guardian Council, which is in charge of approving the competency of the candidates running for election, named the candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections on February 21.

According to the Iranian Interior Ministry’s statistics, 16,145 candidates registered to run, but as many as 9000 (according to nonofficial statistics) were disqualified. The exact number will be announced only a week before the elections, giving the candidates a short time to campaign.

Another 81 candidates have registered for the midterm elections of the Council of Experts which will run parallel to the parliamentary elections. This council concerns itself with the actions of the Supreme Leader and will be in charge of choosing another a new one if anything happened to the current leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The leader of the Islamic Revolution (the Supreme Leader) is also considered to be the leader of the country and the highest ranking official.

The candidates will compete for a total of 290 parliamentary seats.

While the majority of people are concerned with the Parliamentary elections, the elections for the Council of Experts is also extremely important. 13 of the 88 seats of the council are up for grabs. Whichever political group which controls these seats will have a chance to influence the election of the next leader of the country.

The Guardian Council was harsh this year and disqualified 9000 candidates (90 of them current members of Parliament), a move which drew criticism from the Iranian president and many Iranian politicians. This was especially the case given that most of those who were disqualified were reformists, Moderates and Technocratic candidates, a fact which sparked chaos throughout the political community.

At the time I am writing this article, the conservatives have so many candidates they are fighting with each other over about who will make the official list. While they will likely release a few official electoral lists, the reformists and other groups were so short of candidates they were not able to fill the 30 slot electoral list for Tehran.

Around 190 candidates are determined to boycott the elections despite having been approved by the Guardian Council in solidarity with their colleagues.

It is a well known fact that Brigadier General Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, the previous mayor of Tehran, will become the speaker of the next parliament and that conservatives will win the majority of seats, if not all of them.

There is no longer any doubt that the next parliament will be controlled by the conservatives, but there is still debate about exactly how many seats they will win.

The conservative camp is engaged in debates between hardliners and moderates, but all of them have agreed that Ghalibaf will lead the new parliament.

Commander Ghalibaf is a revolutionary guard member who fought in the eight year Iran-Iraq war, and is seen as one of the most successful managers in the country. Since taking control of the department in 1999, he has been able to transform the Iranian Police into a modern and efficient institution.

He resigned from the police department to run for presidential elections in 2005 but lost to his conservative rival Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

He was then elected by the city council as the Mayor of Tehran to succeed Ahmadinejad who became president. From this point, he started a successful non-military career and was able to modernize the capital over his 12 year career.

As his conservative colleagues often mention, he is widely seen as a symbol of successful revolutionary guard young officers becoming politicians. The conservatives are counting on him to lead the new parliament while Iran faces the harshest sanctions regime in history.

Ghalibaf used the slogan “To Save the Iranian Economy” for his campaign, highlighting the central importance of economic matters..

Considering the fact that the administration is in the hands of a government led by President Hassan Rouhani and tasked with managing the economy, it is clear the conservatives intend to come into power on both sides if they take control.

We shouldn’t forget that the Judiciary is now headed by Ayatollah Ibrahim Raisi who was Rouhani’s rival in 2017 presidential elections. At that time, Ghalibaf withdrew from the elections to support Raisi.

Raisi headed the Judiciary on a platform of “Fighting Corruption”.

Although the conservative camp’s slogan highlights economic issues, they will also have to take action to deal with American sanctions. The conservatives are more or less united in how they believe Iran Should face the “Great Satan,” which will imply serious political challenges for president Rouhani’s negotiation-based platform.

If we look at the problems Iran has faced up to the present as the Spring, we could say a very cold winter lies ahead, especially considering that the majority of current parliament members came in as supporters of president Rouhani.

If the conservatives are successful in implementing new laws which even partially solve the economic problems Iranians are facing, there is no doubt that they will win the 2021 presidential election.

It is worth while to discuss the challenges facing the next Iranian parliament and the policies of various other political groups.

1 – The JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action), also known as the Iran nuclear deal:

The conservatives have always opposed the nuclear deal and any deals or negotiations with the US. After Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the JCPOA, they pressured the Iranian Government to stop adhering to the terms of the deal, while the reformists have always supported the agreement and encouraged the government to abide by it. If the conservatives get control over the Parliament there is a chance that they will pass a law which forces the Iranian government to stop implementing its commitments in the JCPOA until the other side does so. There is also a chance they may pass a law forcing the government to halt cooperation with the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) and only abide by the basic commitments of Iran in the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty); however, there is even a chance they will leave that.

2 – Facing American pressure, sanctions and the possibility of negotiation:

While the reformists and moderates favor negotiations with the US, the conservatives believe that the Americans never abide by any deal they make and that Iran must take a stand against them.

This does not mean that the conservatives will refuse any deal, they primarily believe that the American side will only adhere to its agreements if Iran forces them to. Some believe that if conservatives win control over all branches of government it will actually help with negotiations, as there will be no one in the country capable of criticizing the initiatives. Whether or not this is true, it is clear that the conservatives are ready and willing to follow things through to the end in order to read a deal.
For example, in 2004-2005 Iran tried to reach a deal with Europe and America regarding their right to a nuclear program in accordance with the NPT, but the Europeans insisted that Iran close all of its nuclear facilities, and they did. At that time the Iranian government was controlled by the reformists. Nonetheless, the Europeans didn’t abide by the agreement and Iran eventually reopened its nuclear facilities with 190 Centrifuges and facilities for enriching Uranium up to 3.67%.

After that, a conservative government came to power and forced the Europeans to come to the negotiation table. Iran had developed more than 20,000 Centrifuges and was enriching Uranium up to over 20%. This time, the Europeans and Americans had to sign a deal accepting Iran’s right to enrich Uranium and have a nuclear program.

3 – Iranian Ballistic Missile program and influence in the region:

There is no debate between conservatives or reformists regarding the country’s right to have a domestic defense program or Ballistic Missile program, there is also no debate on anything relating Iran’s national security. However, as to Iran’s influence in the region, there are some debates between conservatives and reformists regarding how much the country should get involved in regional issues considering the domestic problems it is facing.

Some may not be aware that the Idea of establishing a Lebanese Hezbollah and exporting the Islamic revolution came from the left wing of the revolution which eventually became the reformists.

The contemporary reformists were members of resistance movements all around the world and were even trained by the PLO (the Palestinian Liberation Organization) before the revolution in Iran. After the revolution, they were the first to join the revolutionary guard.

Today there is considerable debate regarding Iran’s involvement in the region, but with a conservative parliament we can expect new laws will be passed that will help resistance groups in the region much more than before.

4 – Economic problems and Unemployment:

While the reformists follow a socialist labor policy which was approved at the beginning of the revolution in Iran in support of workers and employees, the Conservatives believe in free market policies and may try to change the Labor Laws to try to encourage employers and fight unemployment.

In regard to the economic problems Iran is facing as a result of sanctions, neither side  has a clear plan on how to proceed. As Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, once said that Iranians have to get a PHD in how to overturn sanctions.

While the reformists believe that they could solve some of these problems through negotiations, the conservatives believe that the only way to face them is to rely on domestic powers even if the Iranians have to bear sanctions for a couple more years.

5 – Increasing the power of the military:

While the reformists opened the path for revolutionary guard officers to join the government after the Iran-Iraq war, they oppose increasing the power of the Military today. The most powerful candidates of the Conservative camp are also former Revolutionary guard members and therefore we should expect the military to gain more power in the country.

6 – The next election:

The Iranian parliament does not choose the Supreme leader but would nonetheless be influential in the background lobbies.

The Council of Experts, as mentioned, is currently in the process of midterm with conservatives looking for a chance to seize another 15 seats. Some of these seats used to belong to pro reformist clerics like the late president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. This will significantly strengthen the power of the conservatives when it comes to choosing the next supreme leader.

7 – The FATF (Financial Action Task Force):

While the previous Parliament has approved parts of the FATF agreements and the Iranian Government’s demand to join it, the Guardian Council have refused. The Council of Expedites, which is in charge of solving the debate between the Parliament and the Guardian Council, was unable to make a decision.

With a new conservative parliament, it is highly unlikely that Iran will join the FATF anytime soon.


8 – The golden days of the Iranian government are likely over, as the new conservative parliament will do its best to put pressure the government. We will likely witness more and more impeachments and even a total drop of the number of people in the government.

We should also expect more and more debates between the Iranian government and the new parliament.

Emad Abshenass
Journalist, writer and Political Science professor (Iran)

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April 2024