Independents: Catalysts of Change and Mothballs of Corruption
The parliamentary election in Iran has reportedly extended to run-offs in about 40 percent of the constituencies. However, many believe that the next parliament will be more in line with the moderate policies of Hassan Rouhani’s administration.
As tallies are still under way and results are suspended until a run-off in several constituencies, analysts believe that next will a tripartite parliament, representing attitudes that are more diverse. Clearly, a decade-long unilateral dominance on the part of the so-called principlists is now unlocked. However, the formation of an opposing bloc with equal power still seems too fantastical to be real. A coalition of reformists and moderates, started in 2013 during Rouhani’s presidential campaign, has managed, despite all restrictions, to win approximately a third of vacancies in the parliament. Those run-offs with a contest between a reformist/moderate and a principlist are expected to supplement the former’s bloc. Last but not the least, the remaining third is composed of little-known newcomers or independents, many of whom are indebted for their victory to the reformist/moderate coalition’s campaign to eliminate as many hardliners as possible even in those districts they had no nominees left after the Guardian Council’s sweeping disqualifications. Will it be that deployments, recruitments or manipulations of this last group decide the course of affairs in the next parliament? Alternatively, will they become catalysts of national interests and mothballs of corruption?
The new faces, these apparently low men on the ladder, are prone to join either of the traditional blocs in pursuit of a career in politics, as the establishment badly wants a new generation of politicians. The choice, with its own challenges, is not expected to happen before the next Parliament Speaker is elected. When the new Majlis opens, there are high chances that the next speaker is Mohammad-reza Aref, a vividly proclaimed reformist. Even the present Speaker, Ali Larijani, in case reelected, would be more inclined to eschew principlists and lean toward the moderates. Though seeing Aref as the speaker will sweeten the deal for the reformists, Larijani, a man of all seasons, will be a more pragmatic alternative. This will balance the line-up to some extent and might even give the pro-reform would-be MPs an upper hand against their principlist counterparts. On the other hand, the principlists now devoid of a prominent figure to match Aref’s popularity and charisma, will be pleased to continue working with Larijani despite all the differences that have emerged in recent years. The process of choosing the Speaker will sound out the newcomers and clarify their orientations.
However, it should be noted that none of a dominant discourse of moderation, a rebirth of the ‘reform phoenix’, or the duet’s thrashing victory in Tehran necessarily signifies the crippling of their opponents’ power. Admittedly, the side is incomparably more privileged, enabling it to make more handsome offers, hence attract more MPs.
With foresight in their pursuit of sustainable political careers however, newcomers should be aware of the forthcoming decline of principlism as the hegemony in Iran, choose less for the moment, and at least remain, as they have called themselves so far, independents.
The main beneficiary here will be President Rouhani’s Government of Prudence and Hope. If, ideally, all radicals are blocked and none would re-mushroom in the parliament, the administration can proceed with its bills but without bêtes noires. On the other hand, reformist and moderate MPs will bring their demands regarding civil rights development to the public scene. In spite of the fact that a wounded Guardian Council might want to reciprocate by blocking any such motions, the administration and parliament can work hand in hand and hope for support from the Expediency Council.
A common campaign pledge, made by the administration and the reformists, to work toward the release of Green Movement leaders from house arrest has sparked hopes of a national reconciliation. However, recent furious comments made by the Judiciary Chief Amoli Larijani after an initiative to block like-minded heavyweights from the Assembly of Experts dim expectations as it demonstrates the principlists in power have not plucked the potential yet.