Tomorrow, March 2, 2012, Iranians will go to the poles in the country’s first national elections since the disputed 2009 Presidential contest. Our friend Reza Marashi has written a great article about the politics of Iran’s Parliamentary Elections for the Huffington Post, which we have excerpted below for your reading pleasure:
For several weeks now, Iran’s parliamentary elections have been dismissed by many as an unimportant, farcical show by the regime. To be sure, these elections are all but guaranteed to be neither free nor fair. With Iran’s most popular politicians either behind bars, purged from the system or forced into exile, the upcoming vote is less an election and more a game of elite competition between the Islamic Republic’s warring conservative factions.
Now more than ever before, elections in the Islamic Republic serve as little more than a mechanism through which evolving power relationships among political factions are regulated and recalibrated — certainly a trend worth tracking. Despite a concerted effort to bridge the ideological range of candidates participating in the election, the vote has instead become a battle between conservative factions for political and economic power in Iran.
Loyalty to Supreme Leader Khamenei is currently the linchpin of the regime. However, the level of loyalty and support for Khamenei varies among different factions functioning within a broader conservative camp. The case of incumbent conservative parliamentarian Ali Motahari epitomizes the regime’s willingness to marginalize any voice critical of Khamenei’s growing institutional influence. As the son of Ayatollah Morteza Motahari (an influential Khomeini confident during the 1979 revolution) and brother-in-law of Parliamentary Speak Ali Larijani, Ali Motahari personifies Iran’s well-connected conservative elite. Nevertheless, his robust patronage network failed to protect him from being abandoned by the main conservative coalitions after he openly criticized Khamenei’s rule.
To that end, as the Supreme Leader tries to cement his consolidation of power, determining the future political make-up of the Islamic Republic is critical to understanding its future policy trajectory.
Looking back, many policymakers and pundits have long predicted a consolidation of the conservative faction in Iran, and the upcoming parliamentary vote is latest example that proves the notion incorrect. The running Khamenei-Ahmadinejad divide personifies a larger truth: Iranian conservatives are as varied and divided as the reformists were during former President Mohammad Khatami’s tenure. And given the various power networks in the Islamic Republic – clerics, technocrats, merchants, the military, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps- the consolidation of power in the hands of a single faction has thus far proven unachievable.
Despite submerged rifts among conservatives, they worked together to marginalize the reformists from 2005-2009. With no reformist scapegoats left to target, conservative factions have spent the past three years openly fighting one another. Having seen what happened to the reformists, it is clear to the various conservative factions vying for power this is about political survival and controlling the future of the Islamic Republic.
Ayatollah Khamenei sought to avoid this scenario. As is common before most Iranian elections, his loyalists launched a political process that was designed to unify conservative factions under the auspices of single candidate list that would participate across the country. Negotiations over which candidates would run in various cities dragged on for months, and ultimately the various players were unable to agree on the modalities of what and whom a unified list should consist of. In the end, various factions ended up offering their own lists — some of which overlap — leaving the myriad political rifts unhealed. Of the key factions competing in the elections, two stand out.