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Monday, August 21, 2017

Reformists and moderate conservatives have won a majority of seats in the Iranian parliament following the first elections in the country since a nuclear deal was signed between Iran and the five world powers last July. The electoral victory vindicates the policies pursued by Iran’s reformist president, Hassan Rouhani, who has thawed relations with Western powers.

With 62 percent of eligible voters casting their ballots, the results showed reformists, who support greater engagement with the international community, winning at least 85 seats in the 290-seat parliament. Moderate conservatives, who allied with reformists in supporting the nuclear deal and Rouhani, won 73 seats. The two camps have a majority in parliament, with a combined 158 seats.

Hardliners, who supported Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies during his presidency and opposed the nuclear deal, won 68 seats. That count is a significant drop from the more than 100 seats they hold in the current parliament. In Iran’s capital, Tehran, all 30 reformist candidates, eight of them women, won seats.

The reformists also made big gains in the Assembly of Experts, the religious body in charge of selecting the next Ayatollah. The most important candidate to win a seat in the assembly was Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who held numerous posts during post-revolution Iran, including command of its armed forces and chairman of the Iranian parliament during the Iran-Iraq War, and president of Iran from 1989-1997. He and 14 other Rouhani-allied candidates won all but one of the 16 assembly seats up for election in Tehran.

The moderates previously held around 20 seats in the assembly and their win is seen as an expansion of their influence within the powerful body. It is likely that Iran’s current ayatollah, Ali Khamenei — who is 76 years old — will not last until the end of the assembly’s term. The assembly will have an opportunity to dictate the Iran’s future for decades to come, if and when Khamenei passes.

Iran’s hardliners have attempted to accept defeat with grace. Mehdi Mohammadi, a former adviser to hard-line former nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, conceded that these elections were a blow to conservatives in Tehran. “From my view, more than anything else, the people have decided to give the Hassan Rouhani administration more time,” he wrote on his Telegram account, according to Al-Monitor.

This election is not the first time reformists have come to power in Iran. They first came into parliament during the 1997 election, followed by a majority victory in the 2000 election. But in the 2004 election, which brought Ahmadinejad to power, the reformists suffered setbacks after the Guardian Council, an unelected, hardline body that vets candidates, disqualified 2,500 candidates, including 80 sitting parliamentarians, from the election.

This election, there were no reports of sitting parliamentarians prevented from running. Still, nearly half of possible parliamentary candidates were not approved to run, as were more than 75 percent of Assembly of Experts candidates.

Iran’s geopolitical reality has been, in so many ways, transformed: The country has enjoyed a period of thawing relations with Western countries, become increasingly powerful as the Middle East continues to destabilize, and faces the inevitable succession of its Supreme Ayatollah in the foreseeable future. This reformist electoral victory could just be the start.

The ramifications of the election will be clearer following America’s own elections later this year. Just like the Iranians, the American public spent months listening to politicians argue over the effectiveness of the Iran Deal. Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz compared the deal to Neville Chamberlain’s speech following the Munich Pact in 1939 and Marco Rubio claimed the deal was not binding on the next, assumedly Republican, administration.

Even the Democratic candidates were divided. Bernie Sanders came out in support of the deal. He even supported normalizing relations, something that the Obama administration has been unwilling to do. During a Democratic debate in January, Bernie Sanders said, “I think the goal has got to be as we have done with Cuba to move in warm relations with a very powerful and important country in this world.”

Hillary Clinton also came out in support of the Iran deal, but was against Sanders’s proposal to normalize ties with Iran. She came out against such a move through a statement by 10 former diplomats and officials released by her campaign. “The stakes are high. And we are concerned that Senator Sanders has not thought through these crucial national security issues that can have profound consequences for our security,” read the statement.

The effects of the reformist’s political fortunes will rely, in great measure, on what happens in the American elections. If a Republican wins and Iranians find themselves treated with the same disdain they experienced during the Bush years, they will react in turn and bring about another Ahmadinejad. Under a Democratic president, the future is much brighter.

Photo: Iran’s former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani (C), Iranian former vice president Mohammad Reza Aref (centre, L) and a group of reformists pose for a photo in Tehran February 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mohammad Kazempour/TIMA

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