Partial results are in for Iran’s elections last Friday, and reformists have seen major gains. The reformist camp won all 30 parliamentary seats from the capital, Tehran, and 15 out of 16 of the capital’s seats in the Assembly of experts. Two of the hardliner camp’s most influential leaders have lost there seats altogether. This result, while at first glance surprising, makes sense. Rouhani’s success so far in his first term has given the reform movement the ammunition to achieve the result we see today. Successfully negotiating the nuclear agreement and getting sanctions lifted is a huge coup for the government in a country with as young, highly educated, and ambitious of a population as Iran has. Iran’s ‘millennial generation’ is coming of age and they are making their voices heard. They desire the education and job opportunities that come with globalization and Iran’s engagement with the world. This is a confident, optimistic, and hopeful generation that seeks an end to the country’s ‘permanent revolution’ and wants to see Iran become a ‘normal’ country that engages positively with the rest of the world.
On the other hand, this vote is not a knock-out blow to the hardliner camp. Far, far from it. The hardliners are on track to still win a majority of seats in both the Parliament and the Assembly of Experts, even if that majority will be rather slim. They also still control a number of powerful, unelected bodies the most important being the Guardian Council (analogous to the American Supreme Court, but with extra powers) and the Revolutionary Guard. The hardliners in Iran still have more than enough power to force the reformists to fight tooth and nail for every gain they hope to achieve. If anything, the election results show a highly divided Iran. Both the reformists and the hardliners have shown that they have considerable reservoirs of genuine, popular support to draw on. The Battle for Iran’s soul is heating up and there is no clear victor yet.