Rallying the Flag: Reformists & Centrists Organized, Conservatives Divided Ahead of Elections
Moderate groups and the so-called reformist and centrist factions led by Mohammad Khatami, Hashemi Rafsanjani, and Hassan Rouhani have been able to unite and organize lists of candidates under specific alliances. The conservative media in Iran have launched fresh attacks against former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, publishing reports that raise the possibility of his disqualification from the upcoming Assembly of Experts election, and publicly asking: “Is Rafsanjani qualified?”
Rafsanjani’s disqualification by the Guardian Council is certainly a possibility. Indeed, it’s happened before, when his candidacy for the presidential election in 2013 was rejected by the Guardian Council. In the event of Rafsanjani’s disqualification, reformist-sympathizing Hassan Khomeini, grandson of the former Supreme Leader, could become the leading member of Rafsanjani’s moderate faction in the Assembly of Experts. Hassan Khomeini enjoys public respect and a support base among Iranian youth that will help him attract a considerable share of the vote. Khomeini’s family name maintains a great prominence in Iranian society and the political arena, giving him instant credibility and legitimacy with much of the public. His relatively open positions towards social and political issues have elevated his status and his approval levels in society in general, and especially among youth.
Hassan Khomeini enjoys the support of a large number of clerics, politicians, sportsmen, and members of the public, and his popularity is alarming conservatives who are concerned about his emergence in the political arena. He is assured of widespread support in his Tehran constituency, if he is indeed allowed to run in the election.
Other candidates with impeccable revolutionary credentials and reformist leanings are running for powerful positions, further increasing anxiety among conservatives. Morteza Eshraqi and Ayatollah Bojnourdi are both close to Ayatollah Khomeini’s family and are nominated for the Assembly of Experts and Majlis elections.
Conservative Organizational Troubles
As was the case during the presidential election, the conservative faction has not been able to form a coalition or offer unified lists of candidates. In the present circumstances, there seems to be no alliance or unity among conservative groups. Some conservatives are participating as independent candidates, while many are running under the banner of Ali Larijani, the Majlis speaker, and the Followers of Velayat (Rahrovan E Velayat). A number of other conservatives, led by Mesbah Yazdi and Movahedi Kermani, formed a coalition under the title of Unified Fundamentalists Front, and have plans to participate in the election. A few members of the Paydari Front, partly made up of former ministers in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administrations and followers of Yazdi have also joined the United Fundamentalists Front. In a telling statement that underscores the importance of the upcoming election, the spokesperson of the Unified Fundamentalists Front, Haddad Adel, said that “if the conservative ship sinks during the upcoming election, the whole population of conservatives will go under the water.”
Although forces within the Paydari Front had cut their political ties with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his allies, some conservatives protested the reemergence of these individuals as candidates. This led a number of the conservative camp’s key political figures, such as Ali Larijani, to reject joining the Unified Fundamentalists Front’s coalition in protest.
While Ahmadinejad has claimed he has no plans to participate in the upcoming Assembly and Majlis elections, the Yekta Front, a party made up of former ministers and officials in Ahmadinejad’s administrations, has stepped into the election. They appear to have no relations with the Unified Fundamentalist Front. Conservatives in general appear to have been unable to form a coalition and remain united ahead of the Majlis and Assembly of Experts elections.
If forces close to the Rouhani government and the reformist factions are able to pass the great wall of the Guardian Council’s candidacy reviews, it is possible that they can win a considerable number of the seats in Majlis and the Assembly of Experts.