The Balance of Power in Iran’s Parliament – Only After Second Round of Voting

Both camps, the “moderates” and the “conservatives,” confusingly claimed victory, days before the final results were in from Iran’s twin elections of Feb. 26 to parliament (majlis) and the powerful clerical Assembly of Experts.
State-run TV stations celebrated a sweeping victory for the hard-liners, while the leading moderate, President Hassan Rouhani claimed a landslide in Tehran for his Party of Hope.
It is premature to determine the outcome of the contest for the 290 Majlis seats before the final count, especially with a second round still to come. But it is already clear that the reformists have scored a remarkable success in the vote for the Assembly of Experts and won their first chance to determine who will be Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s successor as the next supreme leader of the Islamic Republic.
According to partial results in the parliamentary vote, the reformists appear have gained tens of seats, but may still not be numerous enough to counteract the conservative majority’s resistance to any liberalization measures and foreign policy reforms that President Rouhani may introduce.
The gaps appear small: According to still partial results, the conservatives have won 112 seats, the moderates 99, the independents 29, and the undecided 59.
The latter two are therefore positioned to tip the scales in legislative business. One “independent” faction supports a vocal extremist, former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and there may be more.
Moreover, before any draft law goes to vote, it must first pass muster before the “constitutional council,” which is chaired by the elderly fundamentalist, Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati.
And on Monday, February 29, the radical Judiciary Head Sadeq Amoli-Larijani grumbled loudly about the moderates’ gains – even though, like Khamenei, Rouhani and the Revolutionary Guards chiefs, he had praised the smooth running of the election, for which more than 60 percent of Iran’s 55 million eligible voters had turned out.
And so DEBKA Weekly’s Iranian sources fully expect Rouhani to have a bigger fight on his hands in the new Majlis than before, especially after the second round of elections, for which no date has been set, and which no one doubts will be used by the conservatives in power for “adjustments.”
Their usual devices include disqualifying certain ballot boxes and ruling against the credentials of undesirable candidates. This was how the regime heavily culled Iran’s most authentic reformers to keep them off the ballot of the first round.
To nullify the victory in Tehran proclaimed by President Rouhani, regime officials are now saying that the turnout was less than 50 percent – below the national average, so laying the ground for a second round of voting in Tehran.
Still up for grabs is the number of “undecided seats.” The second round will also reveal who are the “independents” and how they split between conservatives and moderates.
All in all, the Majlis elections were a repeat exercise in Iran-style shell-game democracy—where voters are under the illusion of choosing their lawmakers, when in reality the only candidates on the slate are loyal adherents of the ruling clique.
In striking contrast, the vote for the Assembly of Experts had clear-cut, incontrovertible results.
Here, the moderates achieved an important upset. Their leader, the pragmatic ex-President Hashemi Rafsanjani, won the top slot, which means that this august clerical body is no longer Khamenei’s lackey.
A veteran survivor of revolutionary hard-line politics, persecution, defamation and his son’s incarceration on charges of graft, Rafsanjani was disqualified two years ago as presidential candidate because of his age. He was then 79.
Today, Rafsanjani rides into a new position of high influence.
In the run-up to the elections, Rafsanjani, knowing he had no chance of being selected as Khamenei’s successor, proposed replacing the single supreme leader with a “leadership council” of three.
He may now pursue this goal in defiance of the radicals, possibly supported by President Rouhani who finished in third place on the Assembly of Experts.
Their path will be smoothed by the failure of two leading radical ayatollahs Mohammad-Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi and Mohammad Yazdi to win seats on the Assembly.
The moderates have thus scooped up an important instrument for political change in Teheran, provided they can swing it round into a political body powerful enough to countermand the conservatives’ Majlis majority. This sort of transition does not come about overnight. And the clerical fundamentalists and Revolutionary Guards will fight this and all other reforms every step of the way.

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