Voters went to the polls for two national elections in Iran at the end of February and have returned a big win for moderates in the country. While conservative hard-liners still hold the majority of most influential positions in Iranian institutions the elections bolstered the voices of moderates who support greater relations with the West. One of the deciding factors in that success seems to be the nuclear deal struck between Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani and President Barack Obama along with other allies in the West. The joint comprehensive plan of action or BARJAM as it is known in Iran, was a huge step forward for the relations between Iran and the West.
The nuclear deal was an important success for Iran’s president Rouhani as part of his greater goal of reducing tension and increasing dialogue with the West. The deal finalized in Vienna last July eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for limitations on its nuclear program and international monitoring.
The Republicans took a hard line against the deal during negotiations last year with a group of Republican senators even writing directly to Iran in an open letter to discourage the deal. While the GOP was quick to slam the President for lifting sanctions, many in the West including President Obama were hopeful that the deal would strengthen moderate forces within the country. The President was clear, however, that the deal was in the interest of the US now and that that should be the focus, not future political unknowns. As President Obama told NPR,
I would argue that this deal is the right thing to do for the United States, for our allies in the region, and for world peace regardless of the nature of the Iranian regime… And it is possible that if we sign this nuclear deal, we strengthen the hand of those more moderate forces inside of Iran. But the key point I want to make is, the deal is not dependent on anticipating those changes.
The election results demonstrate not only popular approval of the nuclear deal, but a favourable opinion of Mr. Rouhani’s broader strategy of opening Iran up to the West.
A Big Win For Moderates In Iran After An Uphill Battle
In the run-up to the elections for parliament and the clerical assembly of experts many of the 3,000 reformist candidates were disqualified. Those that made it on to the ballot, 30 for the parliament and 16 for the clerical assembly of experts formed a “List of Hope”. Celebrities took to social media to encourage people to turn out and vote for the “30+16”.
In the face of hopelessness, #Iran still strives for moderate rule. #IranElections2016.
— Edward Herbert (@ed_herbert) March 1, 2016
The campaign paid off and it is being widely reported that the reformist list swept the 30-seats reserved for the capital Tehran and 15 of the 16 seats on the assembly of experts. The number of reformists are still relatively low in the greater context of Iranian politics, but these new members of parliament will be important allies for the reformist president Rouhani.
Iran’s Election Is A Big Win For Moderates And Women
While President Rouhani is progressive much of the political power in Iran lies with the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. As a result women’s rights are still severly restricted. Women held nine seats in the Iranian parliament prior to this election and that number looks as though it will more than double to 20. It is an important step forward for Iranian women, thought they still do not hold any seats in the clerical assembly of experts. Some of the women who held seats have been criticized for voting against women’s rights. In an interview with Italian journalist Viviana Mazza reformist candidate Parvaneh Salahshori denounced conservative women who supported anti-women legislation,
“these women are not women.”
Eight of the thirty candidates on the reformist list were women. One of them, Seyedeh Fatemeh Hosseini is also the youngest new member of parliament at 30 years old.
Fatemeh Hosseini, a 30 year old engineer, MBA, PhD another incoming MP with her son. #IranElections2016
— Ali Dadpay (@adadpay) February 28, 2016
In the wake of this big win for moderates in Iran, reformists are already making it clear that women’s rights are a priority for them.
Women might double number of seats in #IranElections2016 https://t.co/eDFT9T4yav via @guardian
— UN Women (@UN_Women) March 2, 2016
As the campaign manager for Mohamed Reza Aref told the Associated Press, approval for policies that benefit women can now be achieved,
“Getting parliamentary approval to lift restrictions on women attending male sports stadiums and providing greater protection for women’s rights will be among the measures”
While many were hopeful following the election results that it would bolster the power of reformists in the country others remained skeptical. House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, a California Republican, expressed his doubts in a statement,
“Some candidates in today’s elections may be called moderates, but don’t be fooled. The regime made sure voters were forced to choose, as some have said, ‘between hard-liners or hard hard-liners… It was a rigged game, and the Iranian people — and in turn U.S. national security interests — were destined to lose from the start.”
The official final results of the elections are still slow in coming and many partisan voices continue to claim victory for their own side.
Iran also recently sentenced an oil billionaire that helped the country evade economic sanctions under the presidency of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to death. This is another sign that Iran wants to continue building ties with the West.