Iranians voted in a national election on Friday. The results are still not entirely clear, but western media are naming Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as the big winner.
Iran’s presidency was not up for grabs, but Rouhani was running for reelection to a separate office and possibly with the aim of acquiring yet another position. How can one make sense of this?
The Iranian government is part theocracy and part democracy. The head of state is an unelected religious leader. Yet, the country has an elected president and parliament.
On Friday, more than 30 million Iranians voted for a new parliament and a new Assembly of Experts. The Assembly of Experts holds the powers of hiring and firing Iran’s Supreme Leader.
Current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameni has held power since 1989. He is just the second Supreme Leader in the history of modern Iran.
Khameni is 76 years old and is in questionable health. The next Assembly of Experts may appoint Khameni’s successor. Members of the Assembly of Experts hold eight-year terms.
Elections in Iran are characterized in the West as battles between hardliners and reformists. Iranian hardliners, also known as conservatives, maintain stricter stances on issues relating to Shia Islam, the official religion of the country. They also oppose establishing closer relations with the West, and particularly the United States.
Reformists tend to support more engagement with the West and more democratic reforms domestically. Some independents and moderate conservatives, or moderates, align themselves with the reformists. In Iran, politicians tend to group themselves in coalitions rather than formal political parties.
Khameni is widely viewed as conservative, while Rouhani is considered a moderate. Heading into Friday’s election, hardliners controlled much of the government, including a political body that disqualifies candidates for office.
That body, the Guardian Council, disqualified the majority of candidates in both the races for parliament and the Assembly of Experts. Critics say the Guardian Council, which is appointed by the Supreme Leader, was trying to oust reformist candidates.
Nevertheless, election results indicate reformists and moderates made gains in both the parliament and the Assembly of Experts.
In the parliamentary race, reformists won all 30 seats in Tehran Province, state-owned Iranian broadcaster Press TV reported. Reformists claimed 15 of the 16 Assembly of Experts seats in the Tehran region. Tehran Province is the largest region in Iran.
Iran’s parliament has a total of 290 seats. Reports have varied as to how many seats the different coalitions won.
Some media have reported the reformists will be able to form a majority in the parliament with support from moderates and independents. Most western observers say the new parliament will work closer with Rouhani.
Last year, Rouhani’s negotiating team reached a deal with world powers on restricting Iran’s nuclear program. As a result, most western sanctions on Iran were lifted earlier this year, allowing Iranian oil to return to world markets and giving a boost to the country’s economy. More trade and western investment in Iran are likely following the election.
In addition to being president, Rouhani is a member of the Assembly of Experts. He has been a member of the Assembly since 1999.
In Tehran Province, Rouhani finished third among 159 candidates vying for seats in the Assembly of Experts. There are 88 seats in the Assembly.
Rouhani’s ally, former president Abkar Hashemi Rafsanjani, finished first in the Tehran region. Both Rafsanjani and Rouhani have been mentioned among a crop of possible successors to Khameni. While it is unclear who, if anyone, is a leading candidate to succeed Khameni, chances are increasing that Iran’s next Supreme Leader could be more moderate.
It remains unknown which coalition will control the Assembly of Experts. Results have trickled out in the days following the election. The Guardian Council must certify the results for them to become final.
A runoff election is expected to take place this spring to decide some of the parliamentary races in which no winner emerged.
Migrants who recently fled Iran in search of asylum in Europe voice complaints about the Iranian regime.