Late February witnessed elections for both Iran’s Majlis (parliament) and the Assembly of Experts, a body of men with one function: to choose the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic. The outcome could have a noticeable impact on Iran’s future.
The parliamentary elections are being heralded as a victory for political pragmatists (those who are willing to compromise somewhat on Iran’s revolutionary ideology in order to preserve the power structure of Iran.) The fate of nearly a quarter of the seats is still to be determined in run-off elections. But it is already clear that the voice of the hardliners – or ‘Principalists’ - (those who are unwilling to compromise on any aspect of revolutionary ideology) has been diminished in the Iranian parliament.
More significant, though, is the new makeup of the Assembly of Experts. Given that Ayatollah Khamenei is 76 and endured prostate cancer surgery in 2014, the new members of the Assembly – who were elected for eight years – are highly likely to choose his successor. Former president Rafsanjani and current President Rouhani both gained seats on the Assembly. Rouhani and Rafsanjani are from the pragmatic tradition of Iranian politics. Neither is a reformer. Neither are allies in the fight for improved human rights in Iran. But nor are they hardliners. Followers of either Rouhani or Rafsanjani took at least 50 of the Assembly’s 88 seats.
Rouhani and Rafsanjani have positioned themselves to influence the choice of the next Supreme Leader. If they manage to install a Supreme Leader in their own image, Iran could become a noticeably different country – which is why the elections that have just taken place could be seen as significant.