Reformists win working majority in Iranian Parliament

Earlier this week, Iran held run-off elections for 68 undecided seats from its Parliamentary elections in February. With the run-off elections concluded, we now have a clear view of the make-up of the incoming Iranian Parliament. The final result is quite a bit different from the what I and the BBC reported in February. The headline: Hardliners have lost big. Reformists have won about 42 percent of the seats, with roughly 28 percent going to the hardliners. The remaining roughly 30 percent went to independents and religious minorities. It is important to note that, in general, most of the independents are reformist-leaning, though the Reformist party will still have to work hard for their support. It is further important to note that the Hardliners who remain in Parliament do not include the Hardliners’ most charismatic, influential, and hard-line members. To sum: Reformists have won much more seats than the hardliners, and the hardliners who kept their seats are much more receptive to reform than the hardliners who lost their seats. But what exactly does this mean for Iran? What changes, if any, can we expect?

To start with, we can expect little change in regard to Iranian foreign policy particularly when it comes to Syria. The Iranian Parliament and President are not really in control of the armed forces and have absolutely no control of the Revolutionary Guard. The Revolutionary Guard and the Supreme Leader are in turn mainly responsible for Iran’s foreign military policies. The Revolutionary Guard manages the interventions in Iraq and Syria neither Iran’s President nor Parliament can change that. We can also expect little change when it comes to democratizing the Iranian political system. Ultimately, the Supreme Leader has the final say on any constitutional changes and he is most decidedly not supportive of any change that would reduce the power of himself and his supporters. In other words, Iran’s unelected bodies will retain a great deal of power and influence, the Revolutionary Guard will continue to function outside the control of the Iranian government, and the Iranian government itself will continue to have only limited power as granted by the Supreme Leader. But this is not to say that this vote was in vain.

There is one area where the Iranian elected government still holds sway: the economy. We can expect a fair amount of liberalization in the economy with the new Parliament, though the hardliners will still try to delay and alter the implementation of any reforms. This will mean increased GDP and job growth and thus rising living standards for Iranians in general. This is important as it will help the reformists consolidate their support amongst the general population. While the economy is the area that reformists can hope for the greatest success, another area they can hope to push through reforms is in the social and cultural sphere. While the Iranian government can not realistically hope to grant Iran’s population much greater political freedom, they may be able to grant them greater personal freedom. This includes limiting abuse of power by public officials and easing restrictions on individual expression and freedom of speech.

In conclusion, Iran’s reformists have won a working majority and unlike the last time reformists had a majority (1997-2005), the majority of people in Iran today are too young to remember the Iranian Revolution and even the Iran-Iraq war. They are far more liberal and educated than their parents’ generation and have shown themselves willing to support reform through social media and in the streets. While the Iranian Parliament will not be able to enact real institutional change in Iran, they can hope to give Iranians greater personal and economic liberty.