Moderates, reformists triumph in Iran elections

Feb 28, 2016, 12:21 AM EST
Source: kaka.0098/flickr
Source: kaka.0098/flickr

In the first major elections in Iran since the announcement of last year’s landmark nuclear deal, moderates and reformists made significant gains. Results from Friday’s vote showed reformists -- who favor closer ties with the West and a surer step toward fuller democracy -- on course for their best showing in over a decade.

As the results poured in, a visibly relieved President Hassan Rouhani pointed to them as “a model” for nations beyond Iran and called for an end to the pre-election divisiveness:

“The competition is over, and the era of unity and cooperation has arrived. In the current highly sensitive situation in the region, [where] insecurity has engulfed some countries, the lively holding of the elections of the Assembly of Experts and Majlis [Parliament] in a completely calm and orderly atmosphere can serve as a model of democracy for nations.”

Such results would not only bolster Rouhani and fellow moderates but also serve as an unofficial referendum on the deal, which brought the lifting of sanctions in exchange for nuclear concessions. 

As for hardline politicians, who abhor a deal that an advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei famously compared to swapping “a saddled horse for one with a broken bridle,” such returns are most unwelcome, for the voters seem to be saying that they both favor the deal and savor the freedoms afforded by the sanction rollback.

Moreover, it could be said that the reformists’ apparent triumph indicates that Iranians consider giving up the possibility of creating a nuclear weapon a small price to pay for closer ties outside their theocratic sphere of influence.

It could also be gleaned from these results that the younger generation -- nearly 60 percent of Iran's population of 80 million is under 30 -- is hoping that, when the time comes, the nation’s new spiritual leader will be much more liberal. The elections were not just for Parliament, after all, but also for the 88-member Assembly of Experts, which appoints the supreme leader. Concern over the 76-year-old Khamenei’s health reached fever pitch in 2014 when he underwent prostate cancer surgery, prompting a surreptitious search for his eventual successor.

An Assembly of Experts packed with moderates and reformists is unlikely to replace him with someone in his mold. And if the new man favors the nuclear deal and is open to greater cooperation with Europe and the United States, Iran might even replace Saudi Arabia as the West’s most reliable ally in the Middle East.