The Alternative to Regime Change in Iran
Hassan Rouhani was elected Iran’s president in June 2013 based on his promise of reaching a nuclear agreement and improving the relations with the West. He delivered on his promise, and in the process a close working relationship developed between Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Secretary of State John Kerry. The two diplomats have been discussing various issues, including the cease-fire in Syria. On March 6, President Rouhani said, “We can authorize our negotiation team to discuss other issues [with the West] in the world [that are of mutual interest]. We are sure that we will reach agreement similar to the nuclear negotiations.”
The Iranian people support these efforts and wish for improved relations with the United States. Under the leadership of former presidents Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, as well as Rouhani, Iran’s reformists and moderates want to pursue such goals. Leaders of the Green Movement who are under house arrest, namely former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, his wife Zahra Rahnavard and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi also support the policy of détente with the West.
Since the nuclear agreement between Iran and the P5+1 was signed in July 2015, the main problem in Iran has been national reconciliation. In other words, just as Iran and the P5+1 resolved their long-held and difficult differences diplomatically, Iranians from all walks of life also want to resolve the issues that are dividing their nation. Iranians call the nuclear agreement Barjam, the Farsi acronym for Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The reformists and moderates are now talking about the second Barjam, or Barjam 2, which they hope will lead to the release of all political prisoners, an end to the house arrest of the Green Movement’s leaders, freedom for political parties, independence for the universities and colleges and the resolution of other important issues.
These were also Rouhani’s promises during his campaign for the presidency, which have been opposed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who favors controlling cultural affairs as well as the universities.
Elections for the Assembly of Experts: No to Khamenei
Nationwide elections were held on February 26 for the next Majles (Iran’s parliament), as well as the Assembly of Experts, a constitutional body that appoints the next supreme leader. Over eight hundred wanted to run for the Assembly’s eighty-eight seats, but the Guardian Council, the constitutional body the vets the candidates for elections, deemed only 159 as qualified, an average of less than two for each district. Thus, the Council blocked the reformists and moderates from taking control of the Assembly and monitoring the performance of the supreme leader, a task bestowed upon it by the constitution.
But the reformists and moderates urged the people to cast a protest vote to try blocking the reelection of those hard-line members of the Assembly who symbolize Khamenei’s power. The result was that the hard-liners Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the current chairman of the Assembly; Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, considered the architect of Iran’s use of violence against the people; the dreaded former minister of intelligence Ali Fallahian; Ali Razini, a high official of the judiciary; and Mohammad Saeedi, the Friday prayer imam of Qom, were all defeated. It is also widely believed that only behind-the-scenes maneuverings by the hard-liners facilitated the “election” of Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the secretary general of the Guardian Council and a man who has disqualified thousands of candidates from running in national elections; the judiciary chief Sadegh Larijani; Tehran’s Friday prayer imam Ahmad Khatami; and Ahmad Alamolhoda, the Friday prayer imam of Mashhad.
Khamenei and his supporters blamed the United States and Britain for the defeat of their allies. Ahmad Khatami even lied when he claimed that President Obama had recommended that the Iranian people not vote for the aforementioned hard-liners who were defeated in the elections.
Eliminating the Extremists and Forming a Moderate Parliament
Although the Guardian Council blocked thousands of reformists and moderate candidates from running in the elections, they scored impressive victories in the elections for the Majles that were also held on February 26.
To be elected to the Majles, a candidate must receive at least 25 percent of the votes. If no candidate does that, then the two top vote getters will go to the second round of the elections. In the elections of February 26 the reformist-moderate coalition captured at least one hundred seats, while the conservatives were victorious another hundred districts. Twenty-one independent candidates were also elected; historically, they vote with the reformists. There will be a second round of elections for the sixty-nine remaining seats.
The greater Tehran district has thirty representatives in the Majles, and every candidate of the reformist-moderate coalition for Tehran was elected. Of the 138 candidates that will compete in the second round, fifty-seven are independent, thirty-one are conservative and twenty-seven belong to the reformist-moderate coalition. Thus the coalition, together with the independents, has a good chance of controlling the next Majles, which will begin its four-year term in June.