The Chess Game of Elections: Factions Jockeying for Power in Majlis and the Assembly of Experts

Once again it is the time of year when the upcoming parliamentary and Assembly of Experts elections heat up the political climate in Iran. These elections serve as an important occasion for different political groups to invest their resources in strategizing for candidate nominations and the political brinkmanship that often characterizes election campaigns.

With Le Figaro’s recent report of the Supreme Leader’s deteriorating health, political groups of all stripes have begun to gear up for the upcoming elections. Assembly candidates in particular are jockeying for influential positions in case the selection of the Supreme Leader’s successor falls during their potential terms as elected officials in the next Assembly.

The Reformists

The reformist faction has been gearing up in full force to enter the race for the Assembly of Experts and seats in Majlis. The conservatives have already started rumors about Hashemi Rafsanjani, the head of the Expediency Council, entering the race for a spot in the Assembly of Experts. Newspapers close to conservatives have already published articles questioning Rafsanjani’s intentions and eligibility for this important position.

It is likely that the Guardian Council would, once again, use Rafsanjani’s age to disqualify him from running for the Assembly of Experts. So, when a few members of the Khomeini family announced that they would enter the election as reformists, the faction finally had a backup plan for Rajsanjani in case he gets disqualified.

Seyed Hassan Khomeini, a prominent member of the Khomeini family, generated tremendous support on social media when he declared his candidacy for the Assembly of Experts. He is an influential candidate who can run alongside Rafsanjani and play a strategic role in the faction’s success in the election. Ahmed Khatami, a prominent reformist member of the Assembly, told the press that developing a strong minority within the Assembly is an achievable goal, and would be considered a great success by the reformist faction.

Meanwhile, Morteza Ashrafi, the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, announced his candidacy for the parliamentary elections. Moreover, the reformists – who are informally led by former President Mohammad Khatami – entered the campaign for the Assembly of Experts by positioning Mohammadreza Aref at the top of their list of candidates.

The reformist faction has also invited all supporters across the country to create a backup team in case of any established reformist candidate disqualifications. This dynamic team of new candidates is reportedly adept in the use of social media platforms to get votes.

The Conservatives

Ali Larijani, the Speaker of Majlis, has announced that he is forming a front within the conservative faction called ‘The Followers of Velayat’ (Leadership) in order to contest the parliamentary elections on behalf of the conservative movement. So far, this front has not yet been solidified. However, its formation is still likely even though most members of the conservative faction already share many of Larijani’s views.

Many other groups have emerged in attempts to take the leadership of the conservative movement. For example, the ‘Conservative Majority Coalition’ has been created under the leadership of Mohamadreza Bahonar with the aim of uniting the different fronts of the conservative faction under a single banner. In this case, it is important to watch and see if this front will continue to be affiliated with the conservatives or if it will run separately from the broader movement.  

On the other hand, members of former President Ahmadinejad’s cabinet are also running as part of the conservative faction as the ‘Yekta Front’. Even though Ahmadinejad has issued a statement indicating that he has no plans to re-enter public office, it is still unclear whether or not he will lead the ‘Yekta Front’.

Furthermore, in what is yet another front looking to take the mantle of head of the conservative faction, the Council for a Conservative Alliance is looking to form a majority coalition under the leadership of clerics like Mesbah-Yazdi, Movahedi, and Yazdi.

Finally, Seyed Kamal Al-din Sajadi, the spokesperson for the Followers of Velayat, said members of the Paydar Front are willing to collaborate on forming a majority coalition. He suggested that many in the conservative faction have disagreements with Ahmadinejad and that there is not a substantial desire for his leadership among conservatives.

The Paydar Front, one of Ahmadinejad’s main supporters, has distanced itself from Ahmadinejad’s team in order to protect its current advantage in Parliament. These strategic changes in the behavior of the Paydar Front are an indication of its potential weakening in the upcoming elections.

Now that the Paydar Front is distancing itself from Ahmadinejad and the Council, we have to see if the Yekta Front will enter the Coalition as well, or if it will run independently.

Just like in the presidential election of 2013, conservatives are strategizing around the unity of the party and on coalition formation. So far, different fronts in the conservative movement have announced their candidacies and their desire for unity, but the likelihood of all of these fronts coming together under the Council for a Conservative Alliance is low.

This political jockeying between different factions and fronts demonstrates the importance and competitiveness of elections in Iran. It is important to watch who will lead which front, as well as which faction will ultimately obtain more seats in the parliament and in the Assembly of Experts.


(Photo Credit: Remco Wighman, via flickr)