Last week's make-or-break elections in Iran determined the 290-seat Parliament and Assembly of Experts, the 88-seat clerical body responsible for selecting the country's next Supreme Leader. As the aging current Supreme Leader battles questionable health in a climate of post-sanction economic, political and social opening, the seemingly familiar showdown was pivotal for Conservative and Reformists vying to influence the next political era.
Despite classic Conservative efforts to foil Reformist gains, the overwhelmingly young, educated, democratically active (an estimated 70% of the population will vote today) populace craftily responded with a bold demand for progress. Hard-liner repression of the opposition followed standard practice. The Guardian Council, the institutional watchdog responsible to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for ensuring candidates reflect the Islamic system, banned 80 percent of reform-oriented candidates from participating in elections.
Reformists then devised a mechanism to circumvent the predominantly conservative offering. Organizers created "Lists" clearly highlighting the most reformist and moderate candidates while blacklisting hard-line clerics. Promising stars on the list of 16 reform-approved candidates for Tehran include Mohammad Reza Aref, a Stanford-educated former reformist vice president. Celebrated leaders within the reform movement like former president Khatami, currently banned from official Iranian media, rallied to produce crucial videos urging voters to abide the list. Vastly popular social media outlets guaranteed that lists were absorbed, equipping reformers to today select the approved candidates that will dilute the influence of the denounced hardliners. While conservatives responded by generating their own lists, the incumbent leadership unexpectedly produced a more favorable climate that may allow for greater reformist influence. The hard-liner list included loyalists to the troubling former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad sparking a major rift within the Conservative camp. The cohort of Moderate Conservatives, the majority of the electorate, refused to issue a joint list with conservatives and ran independently. Detached from hardliners, this massive bloc is more than ever free to be swayed by reformists increasingly loud demands.
Last week's elections may ostensibly appear to be another dogged Conservative effort guaranteeing continued power, but the Reformist response illustrates new levels of mobilizing a comprehensive coalition that is not inconsequential. With 60 percent of Iran's 80 million citizens under the age 30, this strategic, adept and loud voice will likely only increase its volume.
Dr. Fariborz Ghadar is Senior Advisor and Distinguished Senior Scholar Center for Strategic and International Affairs in DC. Additionally, he is the William A. Schreyer Professor of Global Management, Policies and Planning and Founding Director (more...)